Top tips to help you embrace and support different cultures.

We’re fortunate in Aotearoa that we have a hugely diverse society. Did you know a quarter of Kiwis were born overseas?! Ethnic and cultural differences are part of New Zealand society, and we need to ensure our work environments embrace and support the range of different cultures.

A great example of this is the celebration of Ramadan. Many of our Muslim colleagues, friends and clients begin Ramadan this month, and there are ways we can collectively be more mindful of their employee experience during this time. 

And further down, we’ve also touched on a few ways to appreciate and value the range of different cultures that make New Zealand the wonderful place it is.

What is Ramadan?

In 2022, Ramadan takes place between 2 April and 2 May. Considered to be the holiest time of the year for Muslims, the next few weeks are focused on daily fasting, prayer, community, and the giving of alms. 

A typical day of fasting means no food or drink from just before sunup to sundown. It’s considered a time to reflect on one’s blessings and to feed one’s soul. At the end of each day at sunset, people typically come together as a family and community for evening meals and calls to prayer.

A key part of making sure your colleagues feel truly supported and that they belong is by recognising significant cultural holidays, such as Ramadan, and understanding ways to accommodate their observations and commitments. Here are a couple of ways you can accommodate Ramadan:

Flexibility is key.

Offering flexibility to Muslim employees during this month for work hours, so they can get adequate sleep around their special prayer times is a huge help. 

Allowing midday breaks for prayer, and providing a napping area is also great. Employers can facilitate this by providing a space for employees to pray, and a peaceful environment for rest. 

And giving the option to work from home this month to accommodate the fasting, sleep and work demands will also be hugely supportive.

Ultimately, the most important thing is to discuss with the person what will best work for them during this time. 

Mindful Meetings.

People will want to be home in time to open fast with their families. So, when organising team meetings, it’s important to be considerate of this. 

It’s also best if in-person meetings don’t include food. It’s not much fun for someone if they’re sitting next to a plate of delicious biscuits but unable to eat them…

Here’s some more tips on how you can be more inclusive and respectful of people from different cultures.

Make it clear cultural discrimination is unacceptable.

We’d hope this one is obvious… but sadly, sometimes people need a harsh reminder. Although New Zealand law prohibits discrimination, organisations also need to take responsibility for their work culture. 

Ensure everyone understands there’s no acceptable level of discrimination – from ‘harmless’ jokes to exclusion from informal work gatherings – any form of discrimination should have zero tolerance and be harshly dealt with. 

Make sure people understand why cultural diversity is important.

Along with making it clear ‘what not to do’, take the time to discuss why an inclusive, multi-cultural work environment is important to your company. 

For example, creating a diverse environment leads to better business outcomes – and ensuring that’s paired with an inclusive workplace culture means everyone can bring their whole self to work and perform to the best of their ability.

Don’t stereotype.

We often think we know about different cultures through books, movies, or even travel, and well… that can lead you into a trap: stereotyping. 

It’s a problem to assume that everyone from one culture has the same perspectives and experiences. They can also be harmful if your assumptions about someone’s traditions or beliefs lead you to pre-judge or discriminate against them. 

Our next point can help you mitigate this.

Ask Questions.

Don’t be afraid to ask respectful, thoughtful questions to better understand a person and their background. 

You could simply spark a conversation whilst both making a coffee in the kitchen. You could ask them what specific cultural celebrations mean, their importance, and perhaps what that person’s best memories tied to these special occasions are. This demonstrates that you’re taking a genuine interest and truly caring and wanting to know more.

Create an environment where you embrace all cultures – and your staff know it.

You can make this obvious from the outset when hiring staff. In the interview stages, make sure people know you’re a diverse, inclusive organisation – and if they have culturally significant days or celebrations they’d like to acknowledge, that you’re fully supportive of this. 

This could be something your social committee makes an active effort to do, by communicating that they embrace and welcome suggestions from employees about celebrating any specific days they’d like acknowledged.

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