Holiday Party Planning in the Diverse Workplace

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By Heidi LaFleche
Monster Contributing Writer

Holiday party planning can get dicey when companies add diversity to their merrymaking mix. How do you appeal to all without leaving someone out in the cold?

"Put the emphasis on celebrating," advises workplace diversity consultant Sondra Thiederman, PhD, author of Making Diversity Work, founder of Cross-Cultural Communications and a Monster contributing writer. The key: "Focus more on what we share and less on where we differ."

Thiederman says trying to plan a holiday party that recognizes every culture and religion is just inviting failure. "The more you try to please members of every single group, the greater danger you are of deeply offending someone left out," she says. "Go for neutrality, not specificity."

Holiday Party-Planning Tips

Include a Welcome Statement. Encourage the CEO, president or regional manager -- whoever's hosting the bash -- to recognize the company's diversity from the microphone. "Say, ‘Look at the diversity in this room. Not only are we celebrating the holiday season and the end of the year and a job well done, but the fact that we're all together in this room,'" Thiederman suggests.

Keep Decor Nonspecific. Sorry, Santa -- it's a "holiday party" now. But that doesn't mean it has to be somber. Deck the halls with neutral symbols such as flowers, balloons, candles and snowflakes. Don't try to do the Christmas tree and the menorah and symbols from every culture.

Accommodate Diverse Palates. Got tofu? It's not as flaky as carnivores may think. Vegetarian choices are a safe -- and yummy -- way to accommodate diverse dietary needs and beliefs. "The respectful way to hold a banquet is to offer vegetarian and nonvegetarian choices," says Thiederman.

Appeal to Everyone with Golden Oldies. Tunes can be tough, as individuals within families (let alone companies and cultures) can have vastly different tastes. Anything too genre- or culture-specific may strike a sour note. To make everyone happy, Thiederman suggests going back in time. "Try historical music, the big bands and sounds of the '40s. It's less of a hot button than if you play rap and have no Christmas carols."

Invite the Family. "One mistake companies make is inviting people for evening celebrations and not including the entire family," says Thiederman. "Everybody has family in common." Daytime and weekend events like picnics may have the widest appeal. Remember that in some cultures, the concept of family may include not just spouses and kids but the extended family, too. Consider how child care and transportation issues may affect whether employees attend.

Key Insight: ‘Kinship Groups' Define What We Share

Celebrations can create a "kinship group" with coworkers from other cultures. "Get everyone together in a room to be light and buoyant and to celebrate without using any individual [religious or cultural] symbols," suggests Theiderman.

A celebration becomes a unifying activity, not one that highlights differences. You can use it to expand your own "kinship group." Don't just hang with your usual, comfortable clique. Make an effort to talk to a coworker you may have avoided because of perceived cultural barriers. You do have things in common: a shared work ethic, values or family concerns.

Quick Tip: Don't Mix Religion with Business Celebrations

"Holiday-time diversity used to mean just adding a Hanukkah menorah to the decorations," says Michael Hyter, president and CEO of diversity and inclusion consultant Novations/J. Howard & Associates, based in Boston. "Employers must be sensitive to the religious beliefs of their employees and create more flexible celebrations to include all of them."

Hyter offers holiday party planners these suggestions:

Avoid Secret Santa and anonymous employee gift exchanges. An innocent stocking stuffer could inadvertently cause discomfort or offense (e.g., a Muslim receives a Christmas angel).

Don't focus just on Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. These can conflict with Ramadan or Diwali.

Alcohol can make some Christians and non-Christians uncomfortable. Offer alternatives.

Get wide input from your employees on holiday planning. Ask as many groups as possible.

Allow employees to opt out of company holiday events without penalty or negative connotation.

Let non-Christian employees offer company-sanctioned alternatives, but don't make them mandatory.

Source :

The Brown Pound in a White World

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By Geraldine Brennan

Children's fiction still rarely features the lives of black and other ethnic minority families, but the book trade is now moving towards diversity. Geraldine Brennan investigates.

The world of children's books is still one where the faces are almost entirely white, unless they belong to a character in The Arabian Nights or other traditional tales.

All of the five highly acclaimed children's novels shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, announced today in TES Teacher magazine, are about white characters. And of the 10 picture books on the Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist, the companion award for outstanding illustration from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, Jane Ray's Jinnie Ghost (Frances Lincoln, Pounds 10.99) is alone in showing a mixture of brown and white children.

The Branford Boase Award for first-time children's writers (shortlist to be announced next week) shows a similar world view among new authors.

Big-name children's authors who are not white are the exception: Malorie Blackman (the only black author for adults or children in the BBC's The Big Read Top 100 in 2003), whose novel Checkmate (Doubleday, £12.99) was nominated for the Carnegie this year; Benjamin Zephaniah; Jamila Gavin; and relative newcomer, Bali Rai.

The majority of picture books reflect non-white cultures only in retellings of traditional tales from outside the UK, offering young black children few opportunities to recognise themselves in stories. There is an overwhelming tendency for illustrators to settle on toys, animals and fairies - white ones - to tell their stories.

In a recent publishers' and booksellers' debate on fiction for seven to nine-year-olds, children's books consultant Wendy Cooling said the monocultural nature of recent publishing for key stage 2 readers was abundantly clear.

"Even where schools have lots of new books, the kinds of stories seem rather similar. We need all kinds of diversity in children's books; we need to look at class and disability as well as culture. That's how children learn empathy."

Beverley Naidoo, who 21 years ago published Journey to Jo'burg, the first children's novel about life under apartheid, could not agree more. She quotes a letter she recently received from an 11-year-old boy in north London who had just read Web of Lies (Puffin Books, £5.99), her novel about young Nigerian asylum seekers' living in Britain. "Thank you for making me understand a little more about myself," he wrote.

She said: "Children are interested and engaged in worlds beyond their own.

The publishers are concentrating on what they know will sell, but why shouldn't more of this kind of story sell?"

Mrs Naidoo is a member of Arts Council England's steering group set up last year to promote diversity in children's books. It is collaborating with the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education to run a weekend conference in June, Diversity Matters. Keynote speakers are Council for Racial Equality chairman Trevor Phillips and Malorie Blackman, and the conference is expected to focus on the commercial realities of publishing, and to highlight good practice by publishers such as Frances Lincoln, which has just launched a culturally diverse primary fiction list.

It is also, said Mrs Naidoo, "a chance for teachers, among others, to tell publishers what is needed. There has been a great shift in the knowledge and awareness available since the 1970s, when children's publishing was a very pristine little world. It is time to pool that knowledge ."

In 2003, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising report on ethnic diversity calculated that UK black and Asian buying power (the institute called it "the brown pound") was worth £32 billion. A session at The Booksellers Association conference in Bournemouth next week will ask: "What can the book trade do to sensibly, sensitively and profitably access this book market?"

There should be some answers in Books for all, a report due out at the conference from the Bookseller and Arts Council England. Publishers, literary agents, booksellers and librarians have been asked what they are doing for BME (black and minority ethnic) readers, including children.

The other side of the story is writers who are trying to be published; a forthcoming smaller-scale study of UK black and Asian poets gives some pointers. The Spread the Word literature development agency talked to 230 poets for Free Verse, its report commissioned by the Arts Councils of England, Scotland and Wales, due to be published on May 16. The report does not specifically cover poetry for children but some factors seem likely to apply across the board. It points out that the most established black and Asian poets in the UK (including some who write for children such as John Agard, Grace Nichols and Valerie Bloom) are from the Caribbean; a new generation of British-born poets is struggling to get into print.

Its recommendations include "a formalised programme of mentoring, adequately funded and administered, that benefits both presses and poets "as a contribution to "breaking down the barriers, whether real or perceived, that stop (black and Asian poets) submitting their work".

Laura Atkins, lecturer at the University of Surrey's Roehampton Institute and another member of the committee behind Diversity Matters, is researching a PhD about non-white authors' experiences. Some writers she has talked to hesitate to submit stories that they think will be rejected as "not white enough", others "don't want to feel boxed in on content - they want to be allowed to experiment".

For publishers, she said: "It's a matter of making it clear that you're open and interested, and it might mean looking at new sources of writers.

The generation we are publishing for is very culturally integrated, yet the success of black and Asian writers for adults is not happening in children's publishing."

Annie Eaton, fiction publisher for Random House Children's Books, which publishes Malorie Blackman and Bali Rai, said, "When we see something good from a non-white writer, we jump at it if it is of the same quality as the rest of our list, or we know we can work successfully with the writer to improve it. Ninety-nine per cent of what we publish comes from agents; I suspect there are new black writers who have not considered writing for children because there are not many role models, and we are going to have to think of ways to find them."

Malorie Blackman's career took off in 1992 when her third book, Hacker, won a W H Smith Mind-Boggling Books Award. She says Diversity Matters reveals "a will to change things. It's a chance to raise the debate in a positive spirit, and I hope it will encourage people from ethnically diverse backgrounds to get into every aspect of publishing, writing the books, making them and selling them. It's very white and middle-class at the moment. It's also important that the publisher cares about the book rather than feeling that they are ticking a multicultural box. That's what I looked for in my early days."

The Free Verse report also notes the large majority of white decision-makers in the book world. This was explored in another Bookseller/Arts Council survey in 2003, which found that of 500 people who worked in publishing, only 13 per cent were not white, and senior staff were almost exclusively white.

Since then, the Diversity in Publishing Network has been set up, with aims that include:"to promote the status and contribution of people from diverse ethnic groups in all areas of publishing".

Source : TES

Young People, Diversity and the Future of Business Sustainability

10 responses

The issue of diversity is one that has been affecting businesses for many years.

It is unacceptable to not view diversity as an integral part of your business; in fact, your business will run the risk of missing out on the commercial benefits that diversity has to offer.

But lets look into the future…a future made up of an integrated society of workers who feel valued because their contribution to business sustainability is being recognised. A future where your vision of competition is based on your level of ethical and fair conduct as opposed to cutthroat tactics.

The thing is there is a problem with that vision.

The workforce of tomorrow will be made up of the young people of today. Young people who come from the diverse backgrounds and have the experiences and skills that will be integral to business success….but young people who feel that employment within many types of businesses, is not for them.

If this continues, the scarcity of not only adequate but also diverse staff will increase.

This will have a larger impact on the development of the business economy as a whole.

Through our youth development services, I have been able to get an insight into some of the reasons why many young people are turning to the creative industry, self-employment as well as negative means to meet their aspirational needs.

The younger generation have high aspirations for employment and seek people to inspire and motivate them but instead they feel that the unimpenetrable glass ceiling has been reinforced by a lack of cultural understanding and ignorance about them and their needs.

This seems to go hand in hand with their overall perception of business; a perception of successful business people being white, middle class and male.

Many believe the professional employment is not a place for people who are diverse, or even white, and from a working class background.

The lack of role models within positions of seniority across many sectors, seems to reaffirm their fears.

In our modern society, statistics show that more young people from diverse backgrounds are going to university because they need to compete effectively with their non-diverse counterparts.

However, many are already planning to use university as a foundation for entrepreneurship or work in other sectors because many believe they will not become successful working within the professional services sector.

This is because they feel that there is a lack of rapport, of understanding, of commitment to change in meeting both their employment and personal needs.

I myself remember that I was offered the chance to go to university but turned down the place on offer. This was because I believed that having practical experience would be more advantageous to me being from an ethnic minority background, than pure academic qualifications when it comes to competition in applying from jobs.

Companies within our sector need to ingest the understanding, that past generations within diverse communities have experienced all the things that our young people are going through. Stories are passed from father to son, mother to daughter as a tool of motivation for success.

What is de-motivating our young people, is the fact that even when they take the opportunities that their parents never had and increase their level of education, meet the criteria requested for jobs and feel they can do no more to achieve success, they look for support around themselves for people like them, and realise that things have not changed.

So what’s the answer? It’s very simple. Just ask yourself one question:

Are you diverse enough?

I don’t mean do your company statistics on ethnicity, older workers, disabled, women, etc. look good on paper. I don’t mean attend as many talks and seminars on the subject of Diversity to make yourself feel like your involved in the change process. I don’t even mean you must shout from the rooftops about how diverse you are.

If you were a young person thinking about finding the job that will kick start your career, the career that will take your family out of deprivation, the career that will enable your parents to come off state benefit, the career based on an acceptance of all you have to offer including new ideas, creative ways of thinking and access to new consumer markets, the career that will give your future children role models to be proud of, would you apply to work for the business you work for now?

As Founder and Director of Cultiv8 Solutions, I am committed to helping businesses in creating a culture of diversity through specialist recruitment consultancy and coaching.

But more importantly, I am committed to creating the future of tomorrow, a future that allows all businesses to become successful based on how they are not what they are.

Are you ready for tomorrow?

Source : Business 4 Brunch