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The Holiday Season: 'An Opportunity for Enlightenment'

The Holiday Season: 'An Opportunity for Enlightenment'

The holiday season is a time for celebration, but it also presents an opportunity to be thoughtful and considerate of others. Many cultural holidays take place during this time of the year -- and people celebrate them in different ways. How can employers and coworkers alike celebrate and respect one another's differences? Are there things we should consider as companies host holiday parties? "Cultural Competence" cohosts Dr. Ella Washington and Camille Lloyd also look back on their favorite episodes of 2021.

Below is a full transcript of the conversation, including time stamps. Full audio is posted above.

Camille Lloyd 00:12

Hello, Dr. Washington. How are you?

Ella Washington 00:15
Camille, I'm doing fantastic. How are you?

Camille Lloyd 00:19
I'm excited. It's, it's, it's the end of the season! I am excited for a recap, and I'm excited for our topic today. And thinking back about this season's, we've had a lot of in-depth conversations. We've talked about a lot of different topics that I think are important to listeners. And in our recap episode, I would love to just kind of talk a little bit about what, for you, this season was particularly enlightening, but also what are those nuggets that you're pocketing?

Ella Washington 00:52
Yeah. Well, you know, in thinking about the whole year itself, it's hard to believe that January 6th was this year, right, with the insurrection. And I know that was last season, but just thinking about the whole year, I mean, You know, 2021 has definitely had some improvements, but it does feel very much like a 2020 Part 2. So, just really thinking about, OK, how far really have we come, especially in the diversity, equity and inclusion conversation, right?

Ella Washington 01:21
And in reflecting back on our podcast episodes in this particular season, you know, some of the things that I remember being so excited about included Juneteenth, right? So not only being able to have commentary on the holiday and what it stands for, but, you know, the quick turn after years and years of trying, but the quick turn, it seemed like in a few days, right before Juneteenth, that it became a federal holiday. And that was so exciting for me because, you know, before, the conversation for a lot of organizations was, Do we celebrate it? Do we not? Do we honor it in some particular way? Do we give the day off for employees? Like what's the right thing to do? But now that it's been made a federal holiday, the conversation is going to be much different. It's, you know, how do we celebrate it? But it is a federal holiday. So employees will be off for most organizations, right? And so I'm really just excited to see the shift in momentum around things that were maybe in question before, like Juneteenth, and now to see like what organizations do with it.

Ella Washington 02:25
So, for example, many organizations have events around Black History Month, or they have events around Martin Luther King Day or other inclusive holidays. And so now I'm interested to see what will happen with Juneteenth in the future. I think the second thing that really comes to mind from our, our conversations together was the dynamic conversation we had around pay equity. And that podcast episode is one that I've sent to executives and students and lots of folks around, you know, the discomfort with talking about compensation and what they need to know. And so that's one conversation that I hope people will continue to listen to, to not only increase their own individual knowledge but also to help advocate for other people who may not be aware of the discrepancies in pay for women and for people of color. What things have you been reflecting on from our season, Camille?

Camille Lloyd 03:23
I love that, because the pay equity one is something that -- it wasn't one of my, my two that I, I reflected on. But the reason why I'm bringing the pay equity one up, it's because we just, I just put some of that in practice with my girlfriends where it's, it's that time of the year where people are having those conversations and negotiations for those of us who are courageous to, to lean in and negotiate for our worth

Ella Washington 03:48
Which should be all of us.

Camille Lloyd 03:49
All of us, right? And it was, it was, it was natural. It's way more natural, and a lot of that was just kind of talking with Ruth this season about it and, you know, feeling more comfortable, right, to say, "Let's talk about pay. How are those discussions going for each of us?" in our, you know, our, you know, weekly tag-up as girlfriends. And feeling comfortable and not having that conversation feel icky, and just realizing a lot of what we were talking about were similar things of how are we going to overcome this barrier in our conversations and stuff like that.

Camille Lloyd 04:22
But my two episodes, one was really around that identity piece that we did on, you know, what you want to be called and that self-identity with Dr. Hall and Black or African American, and realizing that was, that's one of those easy aspects as employees of organizations that sometimes, you know, you contend with because it's easy for you to erase people with the micro of, of interactions right? Call them microaggressions. But it's one of those things where somebody can make a simple, slight comment that might seem erasing, and, by not identifying or recognizing how you want to be identified. So that, you know, kind of realizing yeah I'm, I'm Black. I'm Black American. That's how I want to be identified, and kind of seeing some of those in the results. So that was one.

Camille Lloyd 05:17
The other one for me this year was also around tokenism. I feel like when we talked with Marva Smalls about that, we've all, you know, been in that situation where you've been the only one, and kind of understanding just the weight of being the only one, but knowing and acknowledging that that can be very lonely. And so kind of talking about the conversation around tokenism and how it can be such a heavy burden, but also how, you know, those who find themselves being the only one in some situations, how you can adjust and make room for others and yourself being an example to how you navigate those spaces as a Black woman.

Ella Washington 06:01
Yeah. You know the identity conversation was one that I think will continue. And it, you know, we should have been paying attention to it before, right, asking people how they prefer to be referred to. But I think as we continue to become, you know, global, right, in our perspectives on diversity, equity and inclusion. It's really telling, because every time I'm talking to someone from a country outside of the United States, they often comment about how, how often we identify our race, right, in just everyday interactions. It's like every time we turn around someone's asking you to identify yourself. And as we talked about in the episode, we do it because, you know, we're trying to do better as a nation on tracking different metrics, right? But for other folks it's, it's, it can be othering, right?

Ella Washington 06:50
Further, you know, we talked a lot about race on that episode, but as we're thinking about LGBTQ identities, right, and that's another conversation that really is picking up, I think, positively in organizations. I'm having many more clients ask me, you know, "What's the deal with you having she/her on your Zoom background, right?" And having lots of conversations -- and sometimes heated conversations around identifying in a particular way. Do we have to? Do we need to? Why do we do this? And so that's a conversation I certainly enjoyed with Dr. Hall, and also look forward to seeing how that conversation continues to evolve in the workplace.

Camille Lloyd 07:30
Absolutely! We're 18 months out. Are workplaces evolving?

Ella Washington 07:39
So yeah, 18 months from the racial reckoning, right, of 2020. I think that workplaces are evolving. You know, I have seen lots of momentum and continued momentum in the DEI conversation. What's interesting, though, is now 18 months out, you know, organizations can't say, "We didn't know" anymore. Like that time period is over. And even organizations saying, "OK, we're just starting off," right? But at this point, organizations that took that moment in time to even start their DEI journey are now at least a year in. And so what I'm thinking about now is, like, how are they going to continue to evolve? Are they going to continue on the journey, or are they going to lose steam as we've seen in lots of other spaces? You know, something becomes very popular, flavor of the month, type of thing. And I'm glad it hasn't been a flavor of the month; it's been a flavor of the last two years maybe, right? But we want to make sure it continues. It has to be ingrained in the organization's fabric. And so I'm not quite sure if it is.

Ella Washington 08:45
So do I think that things have shifted for the better? Absolutely. Do I think that it will continue? We'll see. You know, I hope so. I know, for the work that we do, we hope so, but I think that's yet to still be determined. And it's funny, because I think I said the same thing last year on our closing episode, like we'll see. So I'm cautiously optimistic, but consistent, consistent if nothing else.

Camille Lloyd 09:10
And we do see that, you know, even though and when, when we think about public opinion around this issue of race relations and, and, and how we fix it, we've seen some drop-off in that percent of Americans that are citing, but it's still at highs that we've not seen prior to the summer of 2020. So I'm, I'm, I'm skeptically optimistic that, you know, I feel like we, we're in that position where we're moving from moment to action or moment to movement -- whatever you want to, how you want to categorize it. But it's really about now that we are aware, do we have deepened understanding that we can now adjust, you know, our behaviors and adjust what we need to do to address those issues that we are now aware of?

Ella Washington 10:01
Absolutely. Well, I'm on the optimistic train with you. So we will see.

Camille Lloyd 10:05
Absolutely. And that is a good segue into our topic for this week's as well, which is really talking about these end-of-year holidays and now that we are aware and we're more hopefully culturally competent that there are multiple different celebrations around this time of year. And that not everyone celebrates the same way. What are some of those faux pas that are just kind of very much likely to kind of show up on this, in this time of year and, and how organizations, you know, manage and handle it? Because again, it's supposed to be the time of celebration.

Ella Washington 10:41
Absolutely. So this is one of my favorite topics. Because people, a lot of times kind of clam up when it's time to talk about the holidays. I think, you know, we've all been in organizations, I think, that, that were more old school and, and said things like, "Merry Christmas." And, you know, some folks were feeling uncomfortable in those moments, but maybe they didn't have the words or the courage to call those things out. And I think now, with a push to be more inclusive of everyone, we're seeing a shift. And, you know, it's interesting because tens of millions of Americans actually don't celebrate Christmas, religiously or at all. And so it's, it's a much safer bet for organizations to say things like "Happy Holidays," because you're not sure what you're coworker celebrates or if they celebrate at all.

Ella Washington 11:30
And I would even push beyond just saying, "Happy Holidays," to, to have organizations really think about how do we take the holidays and some of the trepidation that a lot of folks have around them and make it more inclusive, make it an opportunity to have those inclusive conversations that we so often talk about? You know, a lot of times, leaders are looking for a negative moment, you know, or something that happens in the media to bring in and say, "OK, this is the moment where I can have an inclusive conversation." But the reality is, these inclusive conversations can happen every day. What we're trying to do is amplify humanity in the workplace. And so the holidays is a time to do that.

Ella Washington 12:07
And so, you know, what I really love to see is when leaders are taking it upon themselves to have conversations with their team members to ask them, "Hey, how do you celebrate the holidays? Do you celebrate the holidays? If you don't, how do you like to spend that time between, you know, Christmas and New Year's? You know, are there things that you like to do for yourself?" And so not making it a conversation where people feel like they have to defend what they do or do not celebrate or what they do or do not do during that time, but just a time for us to get to know more about each other and what makes us tick. Because we all know that it's that love between Christmas and New Year's -- even if you don't celebrate anything -- maybe you're just sleeping and, and watching, you know, Netflix, that's great. And so, that's one thing that I really like to see organizations lean more into.

Camille Lloyd 12:53
It's just kind of leaning into my learning journey, as we, we were thinking about this topic. And knowing that not only that it's like there's so many other holidays that are around this time that's not Christmas or New Year's. And it just kind of dawned on me, I found that that was very interesting and enlightening for me as I was kind of leaning in to learn more about what's happening in other cultures and customs and different individuals who have different beliefs than my own that's happening around this time of the year? And I was just astonished at all of those different festivities and celebrations that are not Christmas or New Year's.

Ella Washington 13:37
Absolutely, there's a Buddhist holiday. There's a Hindu festival that begins in November or October, depending on the year. There's a Muslim holiday that sometimes can fall around this time of the year, right? There's Hanukkah, which is a Jewish holiday. There's Kwanzaa, the weeklong holiday honoring African American heritage. There's the Chinese New Year that usually falls between somewhere January, February, right? So there's so many different like holidays that are celebrated. Some of them fall in December, depending on the year, and others fall, you know, January, February, but it's still around that same time of the year. And so that's why I really do think it's an opportunity of enlightenment and, like you said, continued learning to, to ask folks, you know, just phrase the question in a way that's inviting everyone to share their experiences -- including folks that don't celebrate anything and maybe that, that, that don't like the holidays, for whatever reason.

Ella Washington 14:34
And, and that's something that I did want to talk about, you know, we assume the holidays are joyous and happy for everyone, and that everyone looks forward to them. I'll be honest, I am someone who looks forward to the holidays and Christmas music and all that good stuff. But the end of the year can really be anxiety-provoking for folks, you know, in a much more in-depth way than I think we realize. I think we all maybe individually think about, oh we have to do maybe, you know, Christmas shopping if we're buying gifts. Or what are we gonna do with our families, that they want to eat? But you know, a 2015 Healthline survey actually found that 44% of people say that they are very stressed during the holidays, with more than 18% reporting that they are extremely stressed. And most people respond, reply that finances were the main culprit for this tension during the holidays, but also being overscheduled, choosing the right gifts and trying to remain healthy contributed to people's anxiety around this time.

Ella Washington 15:39
The American Psychological Association found that 38% of people say that their stress increases during the month of December alone. And only 8% of people actually say they feel happier. And so this, of course, has much connection to the workplace, as December is one of those months where, you know, folks are trying to wrap up things for the year, so there are shortened deadlines, trying to meet fiscal-year expectations. You know, if everyone is stressed, then those of us who are customer-facing, you know, are dealing with stressed-out customers. So it's a huge, huge issue. And unfortunately, it's not just in the U.S., right? So there, there's other research that has found that in, in other countries such as Germany, you know, 7%-10% of people reported reduced productivity for the entire month of December.

Ella Washington 16:30
And, you know, these global studies have found that by December 18, globally, there's this festive fizzle-out -- that people feel like they are more worried about the holidays than anything else. So by December 18, even if they're physically still in the workplace, they are, you know, not mentally there. And so wondering kind of, you know, how, how Gallup data has looked at this issue around wellbeing around the holidays, because it's kind of scary. You know, this is supposed to be a joyous time, but when you really look at the data, it's a bit disconcerting.

Camille Lloyd 17:01
Yeah, and what we've seen, just previous tracking in terms of mood and overall wellbeing have historically shown like holidays and weekends as the happiest day of the year. And, you know, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, you know, Independence Day, that ranked really high in terms of people's mood. However, what we're seeing in the most recent findings that we did a poll beginning of November. And really what we're seeing is that the public is continuing to grapple with emotional effects of the pandemic, even though it's 20 months or so after it first began in the U.S. And what we are seeing is that currently, people's moods are a little bit more somber, right? And, and we're seeing, in terms of how people are rating their mental health as excellent, that we see about 34% of U.S. adults are rating that their mental health currently is excellent. And that is definitely a drop that we see based on levels that we've seen in previous years.

Camille Lloyd 17:59
So I think that there's a little bit more angst and anxiety, in terms of how we're experiencing our lives today than, than, than in previous years, despite trends of tracking that these are supposed to be happy times, right? So there's a lot of, of, of individuals who are really, you know, grappling with different emotional issues, and we're seeing that in our data this year that we haven't seen in previous years. So --

Ella Washington 18:17
You know, one thing that I have really appreciated about this past year is the uptick in conversation around mental health -- in the workplace, specifically, right? You know, with the Olympics, for example, there was so much conversation around the importance of prioritizing mental health, even over winning a gold medal, right? And that conversation has really seeped into the workplace. And so, as you're saying, these things about people being more anxious and more stressed, we know that it's showing up in our work, and it's showing up in our interactions with colleagues. And so, knowing that, that folks are stressed out, wondering, you know, how can people make holiday parties less of a stress factor and also more inclusive? Because a lot of people, you know, determine that, Hey, I know organizations are trying to do this to, to make me feel more included, but I'm actually gonna skip the holiday party this year. What, what should we tell employers?

Camille Lloyd 19:20
I think that it's don't, don't make it mandatory. It wasn't like we, we survived last year. There was not an expectation that we will have holiday parties last year, just because we were in the throes of, of COVID-19, is to keep a similar relaxed environment this year. Where, even though, some people are still anxious about getting together and not kind of mandating and mandatory, because like some people are comfortable getting together; some of us are ready to get together. And, you know, that might be some undue pressure, unintended pressure, when now you have a holiday party that's all of a sudden in person, but I'm still grappling with my COVID anxieties and large gatherings, or I just don't want to celebrate.

Camille Lloyd 20:01
And so this kind of expectation that everyone will show up because it's one of our only -- or first, for some organizations -- opportunity to get together as a group is to kind of outright acknowledge that if you are not comfortable coming, that you very much have that ability to say, "I'm going to opt out," and without explanation, just kind of lift that expectation off of people. Because I feel like, you know, it's one of the few events that organizations will probably try to do in person and push for that. And people might be feeling that pressure to go and to show up and to be, you know, show that you are, you know, socializing and, and, you know, there are some pressures along there.

Ella Washington 20:42
Yeah, I completely agree. And I have a few other, you know, tips around these holiday parties. So completely agree: Make it voluntary. The other things organizations should consider is letting it be an opportunity to create awareness. You know, we talked about all these other religious affiliated holidays and nonreligious type of December holidays. Make it an opportunity to share about multiple walks of life and multiple perspectives, even if it's like passively, you just have information about, you know, the different December holidays. Because a lot of times, people don't know, just like we were, you know, going on our own learning journey with that. The other thing that is an opportunity, I would say, is, you know, for organizations to create two-stage parties. So a lot of times we use alcohol, right, to bring folks together, to destress. But again, that can be a stress-inducing factor for folks that are not trying to drink during the holidays, maybe for religious reasons or just personal health reasons, or they just don't want to, right?

Ella Washington 21:40
And so we can make folks feel uncomfortable if they're like, Oh, I know I have to go to the holiday party and drink. Or if I don't, you know, people are gonna look at me some, some kind of way. And so what some organizations have done, they actually have a, a two-stage party. So maybe the first hour and a half is, you know, all employees are, are welcome. That's where you have your speeches; that's where you have any of the company conversations and communication. And then maybe, you know, you say, "Open bar starts at 8:30," right? And so that's a clear signal for people who don't want to drink, for example, that they're still welcome, obviously, but they can choose to bow out without feeling like they couldn't attend the entire party, right? And it doesn't take, you know, the, the joyous nature of being able to drink with your colleagues away from those folks who do want to partake.

Ella Washington 22:24
And so just kind of being creative, like, not thinking about things, "We've always done it this way, so let's keep doing this way." If we're really trying to be inclusive, we got to step outside the box. And, you know, the last tip I'll give for organizations thinking about their holiday parties is: Make gift exchanges optional. You know, folks should not be forced to buy a gift for their colleagues if they don't want to. And so, if you do want that to be a part of whatever your holiday celebration, think about how the organization can invest and make it inclusive. So, for example, at Cook Ross, all employees receive a $20 Visa gift card that they can use to purchase a present for a colleague. Right? And so in that way, they still are able to do the present exchange if that's something that's really important to your culture. But it doesn't put pressure on people, and it doesn't, you know, give that anxiety of how much should I spend, should I spend, etc.? So, you know, with that, as we're closing out for the year, Camille, I'm wondering, as you think about next year specifically, 2022, what's workplace utopia look like, as we continue in our, our evolution?

Camille Lloyd 23:30
For me, it's about sustained efforts, which is, there, there, we've had, we can't say, "We're trying," and that was year one. And year two, it's like, we, we should have some insights and inclination as to what is working, what is not working, and how you know our environment is making people feel. I think if you were a slow starter, you've had, as an organization, you've had enough time now to kind of start to feel your way through. So for me, it's sustained efforts. Well, what are those things that now are becoming habit and practice that are really around creating more inclusive workplaces? So what are those practices that we've now put in place in our workplaces that we are seeing are having those positive impacts on how different groups experience the workplace and the organization? So, I'm really looking forward to having conversations about what's working really well, and what are those things that are scalable, so we can start to, you know, leverage those learnings across workplaces across the world?

Ella Washington 24:29
Yeah, I completely agree. And, you know, as I think about next year, I hope that we get closer for every person to this idea of workplace utopia, meaning many, many companies are reimagining what the new normal is going to be. You know, 2020 was at home for most folks, if they were able to, right, if they were not essential workers. 2021 has been this like mix of dip and dabble and see what works. And I think companies are coming to terms with the fact that moving forward, nothing is going back to the way it was before 2020. So let's take the opportunity to redefine what our workplace will be. Don't just think about, you know, what, what feels good right now, but what's going to be sustainable in the future? So that's what I look forward to seeing as we move into 2022.

Camille Lloyd 25:17
Thank you so much, Ella. Happy Holidays, and that's this week's episode of Cultural Competence, and that's the season wrap of Cultural Competence.

Ella Washington 25:25
Happy holidays, everyone!

Camille Lloyd 25:30
That's our podcast. To subscribe to Cultural Competence from any podcast app, just search "Cultural Competence." You can learn more about the Gallup Center on Black Voices by visiting Cultural Competence is directed by Curtis Grubb and produced by Justin McCarthy. I'm Camille Lloyd.

Ella Washington 25:48
And I'm Dr. Ella Washington.

Camille Lloyd 25:50
Thanks for tuning in to Cultural Competence. A diversity and inclusion podcast.

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