From Dragon Boats to Diwali: Why Celebrating Diverse Cultural Milestones and Events Matters

28th June 2024 by Mark Holt
The words 'Quality > Quantity'

Celebrating diversity and inclusion milestones sends a powerful message that the organization values and respects its employees' differences. Celebrating a variety of cultural holidays and milestones throughout the year provides opportunities to educate, create inclusive spaces, and promote a sense of belonging. It not only reminds our colleagues of the diversity of our workplace, but also keeps diversity and inclusion front-of-mind for the organistion.

Getting it right is powerful, but getting it wrong can be catastrophic so, along with a list of events that you might want to celebrate, we've included our thoughts on pitfalls and considerations.

But why are these milestones important?

In a diverse society like the UK's, celebrating D&I initiatives in the workplace fosters a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all employees. It goes beyond mere festivity and builds a sense of community, inclusivity, and belonging.

But celebrating diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace is not just about ticking boxes; it's about weaving a culture of respect and belonging into the fabric of your organization. This means recognizing and appreciating the unique strengths and perspectives that each employee brings to the table, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, cultural background, religion, disability, or any other aspect of diversity.

  • Celebrating diversity celebrates your people: Recognizing D&I milestones recognizes and honors the contributions and experiences of diverse individuals within your organization. It demonstrates that you value their unique perspectives and celebrate their identities as integral to the company culture.
  • Diversity & Inclusion fosters innovation and creativity: When employees feel seen and valued for who they are, they're more likely to bring their whole selves to work, leading to a wider range of ideas and solutions.
  • Building trust and loyalty: Celebrating D&I milestones highlights your commitment to creating a fair and equitable workplace, fostering trust and loyalty among all employees.
  • Promoting a sense of community: It fosters a sense of community by demonstrating that the company recognizes and values the diversity of its workforce.
  • Attracting and retaining talent: A diverse and inclusive workplace is more attractive to a wider pool of talent, and shows potential candidates your commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Tips for Creating Inclusive Events and Recognizing Cultural Achievements:

  1. Education and Awareness: Use these milestones as educational opportunities to raise awareness about the history, challenges, and achievements of specific diverse groups. Provide resources, share stories, and encourage employees to learn about the cultural significance of these events. This can be done through emails, newsletters, internal blogs, or even dedicated workshops. For example, sharing the history of a particular holiday, like Black History Month, can educate employees on the struggles and accomplishments of Black individuals and communities.
  2. Inclusive Event Planning: When planning events to celebrate diversity milestones, ensure inclusivity is at the core. This means considering dietary restrictions, accessibility needs, and cultural sensitivities. For instance, offering halal or vegetarian options for a religious holiday event or providing American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for deaf or hard-of-hearing employees and guests.
  3. Encourage Employee Participation: Create opportunities for employees from diverse backgrounds to share their experiences, stories, and cultural traditions with the wider organization. This could be through speaker series, panel discussions, or simply providing a platform for them to lead celebrations or educate colleagues. For example, inviting employees to share their personal stories during LGBTQ+ Pride Month can foster a deeper understanding of the LGBTQ+ community's experiences.
  4. Recognize Intersecting Identities: Many individuals belong to multiple intersectional communities. Recognize and celebrate the diverse intersections of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, ability, and age. For instance, during International Women's Day, highlight the achievements of women of color, transgender women, and women with disabilities, ensuring their stories are seen and heard.
  5. Offer Flexible Accommodations: Be mindful of religious and cultural holidays that may require employees to take time off for celebrations or rituals. Offer flexible work arrangements and accommodations to ensure all employees can participate in these events without worrying about work commitments. This demonstrates respect for their cultural practices.
  6. Incorporate Traditional Practices: When appropriate, incorporate traditional practices and rituals into the workplace with consent and education. For example, during Diwali, you could organize a lamp-lighting ceremony or, for Chinese New Year, share the significance of red envelopes and luck-bringing traditions. These actions show respect and create a more immersive experience for everyone.
  7. Promote Cultural Sensitivity: Train employees on cultural sensitivity and appropriate behavior during these celebrations. Ensure they understand the importance of respect, inclusivity, and avoiding stereotypes or cultural appropriation. This will create a safe and comfortable environment for all participants.
  8. Collaborate with Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): If your organization has ERGs, partner with them to plan and execute diversity milestone events. These groups can provide valuable insights, ensure cultural appropriateness, and encourage participation from their respective communities.
  9. Share Achievers' Stories: Highlight the accomplishments and contributions of diverse individuals and groups within your organization. Share their stories on your company's website, social media, or internal communication platforms. This not only recognizes their achievements but also inspires others and showcases the value of diversity in the workplace.
  10. Continuous Learning: Encourage a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Provide feedback channels for employees to share their thoughts on the organization's celebration efforts and use that input to enhance future events.

Cultural Holidays and Events to Recognize:

(note that this is not supposed to be a complete list, but a starter to give you some ideas).

  1. Burns Night (January 25th): A celebration of Scottish poet Robert Burns, featuring traditional food and poetry readings.
  2. Holocaust Memorial Day (January 27): This day commemorates the victims of the Holocaust and other genocides, with a focus on education and preventing future atrocities.
  3. Chinese New Year (January/February): A significant holiday in Chinese culture, celebrating the lunisolar Chinese calendar's year change. It's a time for families to reunite and enjoy traditional foods and activities.
  4. St David's Day (1st March) – Welsh national day, celebrating culture and heritage within Wales.
  5. International Women's Day (March 8): A global day celebrating women's social, economic, cultural, and political achievements, with a call to action for gender equality.
  6. St. Patrick's Day (17 March): An Irish cultural holiday commemorating the death of Saint Patrick, the foremost patron saint of Ireland, and celebrated worldwide with parades, feasts, and green attire.
  7. St George’s Day (April 23): Commemorates the patron saint of England, celebrating English heritage and national identity.
  8. LGBTQ+ Pride Month (June): Celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and their pride and identity. Many cities in the UK host pride parades and events, fostering inclusivity and visibility.
  9. Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha: These are two important Islamic holidays celebrated by Muslims worldwide, including those in the UK. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, while Eid al-Adha commemorates Prophet Ibrahim's sacrifice.
  10. Mental Health Awareness Week – typically held at the end of May, this week promotes awareness about mental health issues and encourages open conversations within communities.
  11. Windrush Day (16th June) – celebrating the contributions and heritage of those who arrived in Britain from Caribbean countries between 1948-1971.
  12. Rosh Hashanah (September/October): The Jewish New Year, observed by Jewish employees.
  13. Yom Kippur (September/October): A Jewish day of atonement, observed by Jewish employees.
  14. Ramadan: Observances that vary by region; in the UK, it involves fasting from dawn till sunset followed by communal meals during iftar.
  15. Caribbean Carnival (August): A vibrant celebration of Caribbean culture, music, and traditions.
  16. Diwali (October/November): One of the most popular Hindu festivals, Diwali celebrates light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil. It's a time for families and communities to come together and share gifts and sweets.
  17. Black History Month (October): A time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black individuals and communities, with a focus on education and raising awareness of the challenges faced by the Black community.
  18. Ada Lovelace Day (second Tuesday of October) is a day to celebrate and raise awareness of the contributions of women to STEM fields.
  19. Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead (November 1/2): A Mexican holiday celebrated in the UK as well, honoring the memories of loved ones who have passed away. It's a time for families to come together and celebrate life and death. In the UK, the timing means that it's often mixed up with Halloween but the two have very different origins and histories: Halloween has Celtic roots and evolved into a secular holiday celebrated with costumes and sweets. Day of the Dead has Nahua origins and celebrates the lives of deceased loved ones with colorful altars and festive gatherings.
  20. Remembrance Sunday (November): A day to remember those who have lost their lives in war, with ceremonies and events held across the UK, often including two-minute silences and the wearing of poppies.
  21. Remembrance Day/Armistice Day (11th November) – commemorating the armistice agreement that ended World War I and honoring those who lost their lives in war.
  22. International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3): This day aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities, with a focus on inclusion and accessibility.

These are just a few examples of the rich tapestry of cultural holidays and events that can be recognized and celebrated in the UK. By incorporating these into your organization's calendar and following the tips outlined above, you can create meaningful and inclusive experiences that honor diversity and foster a sense of belonging for all.


Pitfalls and considerations

Some employees may have concerns about celebrating cultural events in the workplace due to various factors, primarily stemming from a fear of appropriateness and respect for diversity. Here are some of the potential worries they may have:

  • Cultural Misappropriation: Employees may feel that participating in cultural celebrations could veer into the realm of cultural misappropriation, especially if the majority culture within the organization is dominant. Employees may fear they will unintentionally offend others by appropriating aspects of a culture that isn't theirs.
  • Fear of Tokenism: Some employees might view cultural celebrations as tokenistic gestures rather than genuine attempts to promote diversity and inclusion within an organization. They may feel that these events are superficial efforts, which do not adequately address the complexities of fostering a truly inclusive workplace environment. For example, a company that only recognizes Black History Month with a single event or social media post might be seen as not genuinely invested in promoting diversity and inclusion. Employees may feel that their identities are being used as a marketing tool rather than being valued and respected.
  • Privacy and Personal Space: Some workers value their privacy and personal time, and they may not appreciate the workplace extending into their cultural or religious celebrations. They might feel that these events are best kept separate from work and prefer to celebrate (or not) on their own terms. This is especially true for individuals who keep their religious or cultural affiliations private and don't wish to draw attention to them in a professional setting.
  • Personal Beliefs and Religious Conventions: Employees may also have reservations due to personal or religious beliefs. For example, some cultures and religions have specific guidelines and ceremonies that are deeply rooted and not easily shared with others. Individuals might feel their culture's integrity would be compromised if celebrated in a workplace setting or fear their faith could be misinterpreted or simplified.
  • Negative Implications: They might worry that participating in certain celebrations could be seen as endorsing a particular faith or ideology, which could compromise their personal values or convictions. Our article on balancing the Intersection of Religion and LGBTQIA+ Rights is definitely worth a read.
  • Time and Focus: Employees may also be focused on work-related tasks and deadlines and see cultural celebrations as a distraction or an unnecessary shift in focus. They might prioritize productivity above all else, believing that these events could be perceived as unnecessary interruptions to the work day.
  • Lack of Representation: If the workplace doesn't adequately represent a particular culture, employees from that culture may feel their celebrations are not important or not "worth" acknowledging. This can lead to a sense of isolation and disengagement.
  • Previous Experiences: Finally, it's important to consider that some individuals may have had negative experiences with cultural celebrations in the past, either in the workplace or elsewhere. These experiences could have left them feeling excluded, tokenized, or like their culture was being exploited for the sake of appearance rather than genuine appreciation. As a result, they may approach similar events in the future with caution or even skepticism.

In conclusion, while celebrating diverse cultural events in the workplace can bring numerous benefits, it is crucial to recognize that employee comfort and consent are essential. Organizations should strive to create an environment where individuals feel safe expressing their cultural identities and are given the choice to participate or not without fear of repercussions. By understanding and addressing these concerns, employers can foster a genuinely inclusive atmosphere where employees feel valued for who they are and respected for their unique contributions.

More Blog Articles