Celebrating Vaisakhi and Eid al-Fitr
When organisations celebrate religious holidays or observances, is there anything wrong with taking a ‘Steelpans and Samosas’ approach?
Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen Christians observe Lent, and Easter celebrations taking place across the world. Jewish communities have also been celebrating Passover, and our Muslim colleagues have been observing the holy month of Ramadan. In the upcoming weeks, we will be helping Sikhs and Hindus celebrate Vaisakhi, and Eid al-Fitr (often shortened to “Eid”) will mark the end of the holy month for Muslims. Organisations across the world will have been supporting many of their employees during this time and finding ways to celebrate with them.
Often, organisations see these events as the perfect opportunity to explicitly show their support, whilst also taking the time to educate their workforce and to raise awareness of the many different faiths, beliefs and cultures that add to the rich diversity of society, and the workforce.
It’s important for organisations to show that they understand and support all their employees – no matter what their belief or religion may be (or when they have no faith to speak of). For many, the easiest option is to lay on a feast of some kind that reflects the community at the heart of the event or celebration. We’ve seen employers distributing Easter eggs to employees during Easter and provide catering for a Vaisakhi celebration with traditional Indian or Pakistani foods.
These types of celebrations are often referred to as “Steelpan and Samosas” events. Effectively, taking the ‘fun bits’ from the tradition, or religious holiday or observance (which usually includes music, dance, food and celebrations) and bringing them into the workplace for everyone to enjoy. However, for some, this “Steelpan and Samosas” approach can sometimes feel performative, effectively little more than an empty gesture, as it might be seen to be trivialising the cultural or spiritual importance, or the personal value and impact that’s at the core of the religious event.
Does this mean that organisations should stop holding these types of celebrations for their employees? Food often brings very different groups of people together, helping us to break down barriers between us, encourages conversation and further understanding of our different traditions and cultures. As such, we believe that any event that recognises and celebrates religious holidays and observances should be encouraged, as they demonstrate that an organisation is committed to understanding, supporting and valuing their employees. But there’s always more that can be done….
What organisations could consider doing to show that they’re really committed to supporting their employees is to ensure that the celebration being planned isn’t a single, one-off event and that there are a number of different and ongoing ways to help people celebrate and learn about the religious holiday or observance.
We’ve listed below just a few suggestions for how you can make sure that your organisation can do this effectively.
1. Remember to do your research. As an example, putting on a feast whilst Muslim’s are fasting during Ramadan is unlikely to be welcomed by the very community you’re looking to support! Make sure that you understand what that religious observance or holiday means for those observing it, and what might be an appropriate way to celebrate with them.
2. Encourage all employees to come up with their own suggestions for ways that the organisation can celebrate or mark the event. Think about incentivising this if you get little interest from the workforce. Offering a ‘prize’ of some kind for the best suggestion is a great way of encouraging participation (and interest!).
3. If you have Employee Resource Groups (aka Staff Networks) that represent that community, or faith group invite them to come up with their own suggestions, or even allow and encourage them to organise the celebrations themselves. However, if you’re going to do this always remember to provide them with the time, resources and funding to do it properly!
4. Invite expert speakers, community or faith leaders into the organisation to talk about what the holiday or observance means for them, and how it impacts on the community. Remember to encourage all employees to take advantage of this opportunity, irrespective of whether they hold that belief or celebrate the event themselves.
5. Why not host a ‘multi-faith’ event, seminar or conference? Bringing different faith communities together is a great way of learning from each other, breaking down barriers and encourages dialogue that often continues well after the event has finished. Remember to make sure that your event doesn’t clash with another religious event, preventing those who you would want to be there from attending.
6. Don’t limit your celebrations to just the day or period of the religious holiday or observance. Build up interest amongst the workforce in the weeks (or months)leading up to the date with bitesize learning opportunities or guidance, and make sure that there are ongoing opportunities to learn once the celebration shave ended.
Barry Boffy MBE FIEDP, Principal Consultant
Barry is an award-winning Inclusion, Equality, and Diversity thought leader and joined Vercida Consulting in July 2022 after a15-year career in the criminal justice sector. He was featured in the ‘Top 100Global Inspirational Diversity & Inclusion Leaders’ list in 2021 and is a passionate advocate for victim rights and for a fairer and more inclusive world for all. Barry was awarded an Honorary Fellowship to the Institute of Equality and Diversity Professionals in 2022 for his work in the field and has a particular passion for working with vulnerable, disadvantaged or marginalised communities. He was invited to join the Board of Directors at Faith Matters Europe in April 2022, supporting their work in bringing multi-faith communities together across Europe.
Barry was awarded an MBE for services to policing in June2022.