Erasing Christmas not the answer to workplace diversity

18 Dec, 2015
Professor Edwina Pio

Steering clear of Christmas is an inappropriate response to diversity, says Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio.

Professor Pio says that while it’s great to see more organisations and businesses recognising and respecting the diversity of their staff and stakeholders, there can be a tendency to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ when it comes to Christmas.

The proportion of New Zealanders who identify as Christians is declining, dropping to less than half in 2013, while at the same time New Zealand is becoming increasingly diverse. This has resulted in a heterogeneous workforce with a diversity of religious expressions. Yet organisations seeking to address religious diversity are unsure of how to address Christmas.

Professor Pio says many organisations are treading too carefully around this “C” word, fearful of causing offence or a sense of exclusion.  

As a result, many organisations invite their staff to ‘end of year celebrations’ instead of Christmas parties, send cards wishing clients Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, and decorate their offices with neutral decorations rather than the traditional tree and baubles.

Professor Pio says instead of dropping the idea of Christmas, organisations should continue to mark the occasion but also search for new ways to show respect for the beliefs of all employees and stakeholders.

"Rather than taking away “Happy Christmas”, why not keep it, but broaden the scope of ‘special’ well beyond the traditional Christian holidays like Easter and Christmas?  This can be done by adding in acknowledgement of events such as Diwali, Eid, Buddha Jayanti, Hanukkah and other faith-based festivals," said Professor Pio.

“With the rapidly changing face of society organisations need to prudently plan diversity strategies and their meaningful implementation.   What are the special festivals of employees?  How can we understand and mark the occasion?  And importantly, how can we turn celebrations of diversity into opportunities for enhanced learning and understanding of the people we work with and the societies we live in as we seek to honour and harmonise our lives on our fragile planet Earth?”