How to Build a Holiday Observance Calendar

As an HR professional, few topics permeate my thoughts more thoroughly than diversity, equity, and inclusion. While the layers of these guiding principles are multi-faceted, I recently caught a glimpse of their complexity in the simplest of exercises – compiling our company’s DEI observances calendar.

On Oct. 11, what I’d always viewed as a fun opportunity to educate myself and others on different cultures and experiences took a turn into murky waters. Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day, International Day of the Girl, the first workday following National Mental Health Day, and more to the point-at-hand, the shared space between Columbus Day and the now more widely observed Indigenous Peoples Day. For the record, it’s also National Sausage Pizza Day – a matter of no significance within the DEI space, but how could a lifelong Chicagoan not celebrate with a slice of Chicago pizza?

As we approach the holiday season we again face a similar scenario between Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, Bodhi Day, and Kwanza. With so many observances I am left wondering how Motion can make any of these feel special when they are all at the same time? How can we meet the diverse needs of all our employees and honor the issues and opportunities for awareness that are important to them?  How do we present resonating and relevant messaging that informs and inspires, without getting caught in the back hole of white noise? And most importantly, how do we facilitate constructive, reflective discussions when the issues at hand can be so polarizing? 

The more challenging issue we struggled with this year was the opposing views of Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day, a widely polarizing topic for many individuals, to which I did not have the answer in the moment. Rather than generalizing and making assumptions, I decided to dig in and gain a better understanding. Some of what I discovered did provide a learning moment, though all still very polarizing information. 

National Geographic  asked “Was Christopher Columbus a heroic explorer or a villainous murderer? It depends on who you ask…”As noted in a recent article by NPR – WBEZ Chicago, Columbus Day has long been a hurtful holiday for Native Americans. It conjures the violent history of 500 years of colonial oppression. However, for many Italian Americans, Columbus Day is their day to celebrate Italian heritage. It was adopted at a time when Italians were vilified and faced religious and ethnic discrimination. It was first commemorated in 1892, after 11 Italian Americans were lynched by a mob in New Orleans. The Daily Citizen,  notes that the people of the past were terribly brutal, committing genocide and acts of war across the globe. Even Native American tribes were ruthless towards some of their own, waging war across their land. Some suffered more than others, but it was a brutal world. 

Though I am an LGBTQIA+ HR Director, with a DEI certification, and a masters level education, I am still not sure I have the strategy completely solidified on how to create our observance calendar. I even realize that some of what I mention here might sound cliché, like a beauty pageant queen, answering “world peace”. I am just lacking the dress, makeup, and high heels and sport a beard. 

It could be easy to make a flippant decision and just move on. However, there are implications, as employees and colleagues could end up feeling unheard. We must resolve to a commitment to DE&I in the workplace and culture at large. All these efforts must be met with the hard work of cultivating a welcoming and accepting environment so that everyone feels they have a voice and belong.  

All the best, 

Scott Dykstra, Director of HR