Cultural celebrations at work are fun, but what is your organization REALLY doing to tackle DEI?


Hey there! So as I’m sure you’ve noticed, and perhaps you’ve maybe even experienced it, but a number of organizations are returning to physical offices now. And with that, I’m finding a lot of folks are jumping at the chance to plan for cultural celebrations as a means to contribute to their DEI efforts.


So let’s talk about it….


In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was rolled out in the US, and there was one section in particular, Title 7, which was a true landmark for both civil rights and labor laws in the US, as it made discrimination based on a protected class illegal. Such as: Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Disability Awareness Month, Pride Month… the list goes on


Now, for a very very long time, organizations have leveraged cultural celebrations to essentially “embrace” or acknowledge diversity in the workplace.


In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was rolled out in the US, and there was one section in particular, Title 7, which was a true landmark for both civil rights and labor laws in the US, as it made discrimination based on a protected class illegal.


With that, many organizations took a small step towards embracing diversity in the workplace, often by hosting cultural celebrations in the office. Now, I don’t have the historical context for other regions of the world, but cultural and religious celebrations are and have been prevalent in workplaces around the globe for quite some time.


Now, I’ll start by saying I love cultural celebrations in general, but what I often find is that organizations rely too heavily on these events because they’re sort of just low-hanging-fruit, meaning, they’re just easy and generally don’t require much effort from leaders and decision makers. And, although often performative, they still do show some acknowledgment of underrepresented individuals. To be frank, they can often just be another “check the box effort.”


But, cultural celebrations at work can be great, if two things are considered...

1) the celebrations are respectfully and thoughtfully planned out,


And


2) they aren’t the only thing your organization is doing to foster a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.


So when I say respectfully and thoughtfully planned out, what I mean is that your organization is not using these celebrations as a means to appropriate anyone’s culture, nor are you all using it as an excuse to socialize and have fun. Instead your goal should be to use the time to both embrace a community’s culture and educate others about it.


For example, Cinco de Mayo is coming up and you shouldn’t be ordering tacos and margaritas for your entire workforce to “celebrate” the holiday. Which, btw is NOT Mexican Independence Day, as so many wrongly believe. But I digress...


Instead, you should first take the time to educate employees on the actual history of Cinco de Mayo and use it as a chance to both amplify and hear from your employees, clients, and any of your community members that are of Mexican heritage. And if you’re not familiar or well versed in the culture, hire and invite someone in who is—someone who can properly drop knowledge! And please make sure that you aren’t tokenizing any of your people in the process.


You can also use cultural celebrations as a reminder to both assess and reflect on how your organization does or does not support a particular demographic, and then set some goals on how you can better support that community moving forward.

Now, on to my second point. There’s no one thing an organization should be doing to build a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment. Several efforts must be running concurrently at any given time if you want to see real change.


For existing, already established organizations, you should have a comprehensive DEI strategy in place that aims to integrate best practices into every aspect of your business.


And for newer organizations, or those that are just forming or starting out, you shouldn’t even need a separate strategy, instead you should be thinking about and incorporating DEI best practices into all aspects of your business from day 1!


So again, cultural celebrations at work can serve as an additional way to expose people to and educate them on cultures and histories that they may not otherwise seek out. Which of course further develops the skill of cultural competence, which is one of the key elements of fostering inclusive teams, which research proves leads to better business outcomes.


But remember: cultural celebrations alone are not enough to solve for the inequities that exist in your workplace. You must do more to identify and dismantle those systemic barriers that are preventing marginalized folks from being invited into and succeeding in your space. And keep in mind that those same barriers are simultaneously allowing everyone else to thrive.


So that’s that! Please share your thoughts in the comments below and subscribe for future updates. See you all soon!


-A