We live in a global economy with more diversity and touch than ever before. Time zones and locations mean virtually nothing. The old Bell (then AT&T) slogan “reach out and touch someone” has a whole new meaning with things like conference calls and video chats. I even see it on the technical side when trying to help customers architect highly available systems where downtime may affect some part of the world.
There are some challenges that have always been universal in a diverse workforce, and it never gets easier the more inclusive you get. The reality is that someone, somewhere is going to be affected (and it may upset them, too). I think sometimes people are too sensitive to certain issues, but other times, completely justified at their reaction. Having said that, what things always boil down to in some scenarios is this: do you possibly offend a few people – the minority – and the group at large will be OK, or do you try to accommodate everyone? The answer to that is difficult and in my opinion, not straightforward. It’d be nice to say you can accommodate everyone all the time, but we all know that’s not possible.
Let me give you a practical example. The Jewish calendar has many holidays (and holiday is always a relative term for a day like Yom Kippur), and some are definitely “bigger” than others (at least to most Jews; to others, all are equally important including the Sabbath which happens every Friday and Saturday – not looking to turn this into a religious debate). The three holidays that are off limits for me no matter what are Rosh Hashanah (2 days, not 1), Yom Kippur, and Passover. RH and YK – especially YK – are really important days (New Year and Day of Atonement respectively). Passover due to the food scenario is really hard. I always take the days of the two seders off, but avoid work travel the rest of the week. To my fellow Jews who are more observant than me, I’m not saying Sukkot, Purim, Chanukkah (insert your own spelling), Lag B’Omer, Shavuot, et al. are not important. I know they are.
Where am I going with this? I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve been asked to do things on Jewish holidays, and especially RH and YK. On YK I don’t generally answer the phone, watch TV, etc. It’s that important to me, even today. Modern conveniences don’t rule that day and it adds to the reflective mood to be quite honest. So clearly my answer to being asked is always no. What I do hope is that they understand. 9/10 times they are, and I’ve done things like postpone starting dates for engagements.
But what happens if people aren’t understanding, don’t care, or can’t change a date even if they want to? That’s tough. My answer is still going to be no, even if it would mean me losing out on a good opportunity (personally, professionally, financially … or all of ’em). That’s just the way it is. Minority rarely rules. Things can sometimes change if the conflicting date is brought to someone’s attention early enough, but if for a larger event, it may just not be possible. When you’re coordinating tens, hundreds, or possibly thousands of people, it’s hard to figure out one or a set of dates that works for everyone. Invariably there’s a conflict somewhere.
In my experience, when this happens, it’s not malicious or intentional. People make honest oversights – especially when scheduling events. In my case, I don’t expect everyone to carry a Jewish calendar and know when they happen since the dates change every year (but they are always around the same general timeframe ever year …). But I would hope a major organization with months of heads up could do something about it. Sometimes they can, sometimes they can’t. That’s life. You can’t be all things to all people, nor can I.
So as you continue to celebrate diversity and being inclusive, remember that you’re going to eventually run into a bump somewhere. It’s a matter of when, not if, and you just have to decide if it’s a major gaffe you need to deal with, or let majority rule and realize some people just can’t take part.