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Don’t Say “Happy Yom Kippur” and How to Create an Inclusive Calendar

Don't say happy Yom Kippur and how to create an inclusive calendar

Well-intentioned gentiles like me might say “Happy Yom Kippur,” without knowing that Yom Kippur is actually a somber Jewish holiday (read more about it here and learn what you should say instead). Christians wouldn’t say “Happy Good Friday,” right?

It’s time to educate ourselves about interfaith holidays, especially if we want to be inclusive leaders and communicators!

When interviewing Rabbi Debra Kolodny on my podcast a few years ago, they woke me up to the fact that most organizations do not have inclusive calendars. They found it difficult living on the west coast because the City of Portland would plan meetings on the Jewish high holy days (to talk about diversity and inclusion!). They have since moved to New England, which is much more Jewish friendly than Oregon.

In the United States, it’s the norm to celebrate Christmas, while we ignore other major religious holidays.

It’s just disrespectful to plan meetings or events on days of rest, fasting, and prayer.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers with 15 or more employees to make reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious observances. However, don’t just make accommodations. You can make it less awkward for your observant religious employees.

Avoid asking them to choose between their faith or their job responsibilities.

SEVEN ways to create an inclusive calendar

1. Create an inclusive calendar task force.

Invite your interfaith staff to participate and determine which holidays are best to avoid for meetings and events. Talk to your people and ask them how you can best support them!

2. Research the major religious holy days of rest, fasting, and prayer, which are especially important to include.

For example, Ramadan, Yom Kippur, the Buddhist week of Danjiki, and the Christian Holy Week.

3. Don’t require attendance at holiday events, especially winter holiday parties.

Some religions, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not celebrate these holidays at all. In addition, observant Muslims and Mormons might not feel comfortable being around a lot of alcohol. Provide a lot of fun non-alcoholic drinks!

4. Make sure you use inclusive terms like “holidays” instead of “Christmas” during December.

While most Americans celebrate Christmas, many do not. For example, the United States has more than 2.6 million Jehovah Witnesses. Non-Christian faiths make up about 6% of the U.S. population. Go beyond your language and try to de-emphasize the focus on Christmas in your holiday communications and events.

5. Learn how to support employees who are fasting.

Discourage employee lunches, happy hours, and donuts in the break room during religious fast days. Offer flexible working hours. Ask questions about how it's going, but don't ask why someone is not fasting. Not all observant Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Sikhs fast.

6. Train your managers to be supportive and encouraging.

Leaders should have conversations with their direct reports about their religious observances. Although we are conditioned to avoid discussing religion, this is an important part of getting to know your employees! They should be encouraging, supportive conversations…so make sure to train your leaders in how to have these conversations (and what not to say!).

7. Create awareness of other religions.

Educate your employees by highlighting stories of your interfaith staff. Invite them to share how they celebrate their religious holidays. For example, discuss how to wish someone “Ramadan Kareem,” which translates into “Have a generous Ramadan.”

Most important, create a culture of respect and inclusive communications at your organization.

Let me know if you could use help with inclusive communications and leadership…it can be done!

I help professional services firms avoid BORING and boost employee engagement, productivity, and readership. I translate technical, complex, and lackluster language into accessible, dynamic, story-driven text. Get known in your industry through outstanding thought leadership content. Walk your talk through outstanding, effective communications with your employees and clients. Fertile Ground Communications LLC is a certified women-owned business enterprise, disadvantaged business enterprise, and emerging small business.


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