The holidays is a time of year where many of us are in the Christmas mind-zone. There is Christmas decor, music, and cheer everywhere. For that reason, around December I remind my clients and friends to remember that most teams and organizations have staff with different religious and cultural traditions, each of which should also be respected, acknowledged and celebrated.
Of course, we should strive to have this cultural sensitivity and desire for inclusiveness year-round, not just in December. Here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that all guests’ religious and cultural needs and sensitivities are respected when planning your next conference or event:
1. Check a multi-faith calendar.
When selecting the date of your conference or event, be sure to check a multi-faith calendar to make sure that your desired date doesn’t coincide with any religious holidays, including the non-Christian holidays that you may not be familiar with. In order to understand if the holiday will preclude some guests from participating, you’ll have to learn more about the holiday. Scheduling an event on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur would prevent many Jewish guests from participating, even those who aren’t particularly religious, whereas a day-time event on Chanukah would pose less of a problem. To ensure that you can still secure your desired venue without running into the issue of booking a holiday, make sure to book well in advance – the earlier the better.
It’s also important to consider how the time that your event is called for may impact guests from different religious backgrounds. If you might have observant Muslim or Jewish guests in attendance, consider whether or not you have mosques or synagogues nearby so that they can leave the event for prayers without having to travel great distances. It may also be worthwhile to have a designated prayer room if you’re hosting a multi-day conference.
2. Food glorious food.
When it comes to feeding guests at your events, there are a number of things you have to take into account to ensure that nobody goes hungry. Today, in addition to the considerations of guests with dietary restrictions, you have to be sensitive to the many different religious needs people may have. Jews, Muslims and 7th Day Adventists don’t eat pork for religious purposes, so serving pork during lunch or dinner may leave guests of these faiths without much to eat. Depending on the guests’ religious observance, they may only eat Kosher or Halal certified products, in which case you or your event planner will have to coordinate that special meals be brought in for these guests at mealtimes.
It’s important to make sure that all your guests have food options at every meal you serve. Important to note is that these guests should have the same quality of meal as your other guests. It would be inappropriate to leave a vegetarian guest to nibble off of the vegetable tray or a fruit salad while everyone else is having their chicken or beef entree. Lastly, be sensitive to common allergies when designing your menu. Avoid shellfish and nuts if you can to reduce the chances that guests won’t be able to partake in all your offerings.
3. Research, research, research.
When planning an event for a particular religious or cultural group, it’s important to be well-versed on that groups’ many unique norms, preferences and traditions. Different decisions – from venue selection to appropriate entertainment – may be impacted by that groups’ needs and sensitivities. Failing to do your research could lead to some unfortunate mishaps which might make your guests uncomfortable or reflect badly on your organization. This holds true not only for religious and cultural groups but also certain organizational cultures. For instance, a comic with funny yet mildly risqué humour wouldn’t be a good entertainment selection for a traditional ultra-rigid corporate culture.
It’s common courtesy to be as inclusive as possible when organizing your events. Doing so reflects well on your organization and sends the message that you respect and celebrate diversity. If you’d like some assistance in ensuring that the needs of all your guests are met – regardless of their religious or cultural background – contact a member of the SGP Conferences and Events team today.