Why Being an Ally During Cultural Holidays Matters – And How to Do It Right

If you read our post earlier this year on How a Diversity Calendar can Transform Your Workplace Culture, you know that there are many ways for organizations to utilize our Diversity calendar.

And while big moves like making holiday, vacation and personal time off policies are ideal, if you’re not in a leadership position or working in HR, you may not have the power to make changes like this.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. 

“As someone who lived for more than a decade in Islamic countries, is married to a Muslim, is a secular convert to Islam, and is raising bi-racial and bi-cultural children, Muslim inclusion has always been important to me,” says Sky McLaughlin, MT Consulting Group Co-Founder.

“I would always point out to leadership if a special event at work was being held on an important Islamic holiday, or if a pot-luck or some kind of team-building event was planned during Ramadan. I would make sure to speak up and say that it would probably be more inclusive to be held during a time that didn’t involve fasting for certain staff members.”

She shares that an ally from the dominant cultural group often has more leeway to call out situations like these, whereas members of an equity-seeking group may feel singled out if they try to bring things up to management.

Sky offers some helpful tips on how we can all continue to be better allies to those celebrating cultural holidays around us. 

1. Ask

It seems obvious, but many of us often need a reminder that, yeah. Sometimes it’s best to ask what’s best practice or most helpful.

Everyone celebrates their cultural holidays a little differently, and if we want to honour individual autonomy we should be willing to hear them out on how they might choose to celebrate. They might even invite you to join them!

2. Do your own research

Ok, this is really tip 1.5, but it’s always great to do some of your own research to learn a little bit about the cultural, religious or spiritual background of the holiday in question.

Genuine curiosity and the willingness to learn goes a long way. Use the knowledge you gained to start a conversation or ask questions.

Doing your own research may even simply look like learning a common greeting in their cultural language.

3. Acknowledge the holiday

Many workplaces organize things like Secret Santa for Christmas, but have you considered what gestures you could do to support colleagues celebrating other holidays? Things like a golden coin in a red envelope for Lunar New Year, or flags for pride are small gestures that can go a long way. 

Also, while consulting people who celebrate is important, don’t solely leave the labour of planning and execution to them. Being an ally means putting in the work!

4. Send words of support

This tip isn’t just isolated to cultural holidays. 

Of course everyone wants to celebrate the good, but in reality, our peers need our support even more when things are not going well. When a negative event impacts your colleague’s community more broadly, for example anti-Asian hate in America, don’t be afraid to offer your support, volunteer to take action, or if you’re financially able, make a donation.

5. Don’t make assumptions

With workplaces being more diverse than ever, it’s  best to play things safe and not to make assumptions about somebody’s cultural background.

Just because someone might be from a culture that observes Ramadan, for example,doesn’t mean they are observant or choose to fast. It can be easy to lump all members of a cultural background together, but through actively working against our biases we will create more inclusive workplaces for everyone. 

Cultural holidays make us who we are. They’re the traditions we grow up with and the memories we hold dear to us. 

It’s such a simple act, to learn a bit more about our friends and coworkers’ culturally significant holidays, yet it’s something so many of us seem to overlook, or assume it’s not our business. 

There is room for everyone to do their part in supporting colleagues celebrating cultural holidays in the workplace. Allyship does not always look like direct participation or major changes. It can look like celebrating differences and calling out the biases you see day to day. 

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Madisen Gee is a contributing writer at MT Consulting Group.

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