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Holiday Party Planning in the Diverse Workplace

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.

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