We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again - diversity is vital to a successful organization. Having a team full of people from different backgrounds not only benefits the team itself through the education of each other’s upbringings, but your work will benefit as well, as a variety of perspectives can work together to create the best solutions possible. However, with a diverse team, it’s important to pay equal attention to special occasions from other cultures outside of the American norm. Doing so gives your team an outlet to learn more about each other and strengthen that group bond. That being said, honoring diversity must be done in the correct manner, meaning it is crucial to understand where the line between appreciation and appropriation lies. Let’s go over some do’s and don'ts on how you can make sure you don’t cross that line and to ensure your culturally appreciative event is a success!
Have someone from the culture that you are honoring be your guide.
A sure-shot way to know you aren’t moving in the wrong direction is to place a member of the community that you’re celebrating at the head of the event planning efforts. It’s one thing to plan an event based on a couple of Google searches about a culture. It’s something completely different to have someone who has actually been immersed in that culture lead and guide the event’s execution to ensure that the proper messages are being conveyed and that the event is being planned appropriately.
Avoid stereotypes at all costs.
If you’re planning on doing something like wearing sombreros in the office for Cinco de Mayo, I’d advise you to scrap that plan immediately. Depending on stereotypes to plan a cultural event is not only ignorant and insensitive, but frankly, it’s also lazy. Put in the effort to make the event as authentic as you possibly can so that your team can get the most out of it while not being offensive.
Commit to the event and do it justice.
Carrying on the previous sentiment, you will truly get out of this event what you put into it. Therefore, commit to it, do the appropriate research, get the right decor, food, and other event necessities (as far as your budget will allow) and give this cultural event the value that it deserves! After all, why do it if you’re not planning on putting in 100%?
Educate yourself on the significance of the event.
Behind every tradition lies a story of how that tradition came to be. Oftentimes, these events represent bigger meanings and are meant to symbolize certain ideals and principles. Making sure that your team understands the underlying cause and meaning behind what they are celebrating is arguably the most important reason as to why you should host events like these in the first place!
Attempt to Americanize or white-wash the event.
People from around the world that come to this country are all too familiar with Americans minimizing details from their culture in an attempt to make a comparison. This may not be intentionally harmful, but it still cheapens the value of the event. For whatever culture you’re celebrating, appreciate the food, clothing, language, and people for what and who they are as opposed to trying to familiarize it with American culture.
Use cultural garb as a costume.
This sentiment cannot be preached enough - “My culture is not your costume.” Note that this does not mean that other people can’t wear a certain culture’s clothing at the appropriate time and place! If you’re celebrating Diwali, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear an Indian kurta or ghagra. The key here, and for every point made in this article, is respect. Respect the intention of the outfit and the expected standards of modesty and you’ll be good to go!
Be disrespectful of customs, traditions, foods, etc.
Different cultures feature a variety of foods and customs. We may be familiar with some and less familiar with others! Either way, when learning about and appreciating another culture, remember the point about respect being the key. You may not want to try something new that’s being offered to you, and that is obviously completely okay. Just don’t make a scene out of it! Politely decline and move on. Likewise, many cultures perform dances and/or chants as a part of their celebrations. Just observe and learn, and walk away knowing you got to witness something beautiful from a different part of the world!
Underestimate the significance of celebrating your team’s various backgrounds.
There is incredible value to be gained in exploring different cultures and learning about people outside of what we’ve been taught for our entire lives. It’s a privilege to be able to meet people from different walks of life and to learn about their own backgrounds! Having a diverse team is such a huge asset to both your organization but also on a more personal level. We spend so much time with our coworkers and it’s known that we’re all products of our environments. Enlightening ourselves by celebrating different cultures is a great way to make that environment positive and enriching!
In America, we’re fortunate to have such a beautiful blend of cultures present in the room at any given time. We shouldn’t take that for granted. However, we also need to be mindful of how we go about putting on cultural events to make sure we’re honoring the occasion just as it was originally intended to be. Just be mindful and respectful in every decision you make and you’ll be well on your way to planning an amazing culturally appreciative event!
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