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Let’s hold our next National Conference over Christmas!

Posted on June 04, 2007

By Patti Digh

If you doubt the impact, let me invite you to a meeting you really want to attend, one that is important to your career. We’ll hold it on December 24 and get fantastic room rates! Don’t worry about not being home with your family that day—we’ll make sure you get some candy canes in your registration packet and I’ll order Christmas ham for the closing banquet so you will get your holiday meal, as usual.

Feeling welcomed? Feeling like your religious difference has been accommodated in a way that makes you want to be an engaged member of my association?

No, I thought not. But groups plan meetings on important religious holidays all the time – many Jewish people, for example, face the decision about whether to be with family at Passover or Rosh Hashanah or attend professional meetings planned for those dates.

When planning a meeting, before doing anything else, ask three basic questions:

--Have I consulted a multicultural calendar before selecting a date for a meeting?
--Would I plan this meeting on a Christian holiday?
--If the conflict truly is unavoidable or the meeting was planned years ago by someone less enlightened than I, have I acknowledged the religious holiday of those affected and engaged in dialogue to determine what, if any, accommodation might help mitigate the situation (beyond candy canes and holiday hams)?

With the abundance of online multicultural calendars, no longer can we blame our oversight on the fact that “those holidays change every year and confuse me.” “But those are the only dates we can meet” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Nor does “I didn’t realize it was Yom Kippur.” And the typical sarcastic reaction – “So what now – do I have to avoid Chinese New Year and the Independence Day of New Zealand too?” – is inappropriate in a world where leadership decisions are complex, not simple, requiring a leadership mindset and approach that can navigate ambiguity more gracefully.

I learned these lessons the hard way: Years ago, I planned my first international meeting to begin on the first day of Ramadan, a fact brought to my attention by a large contingent who couldn’t attend as a result.

Accommodating differences and creating truly multicultural organizations (not merely ones that talk about being inclusive) means making decisions that sometimes aren’t convenient, but are—instead—the right ones. Sometimes making the right decisions about meeting dates demonstrates that diversity is mission critical to your organization, and that individual members do count.

There’s no doubt that the increasing diversity of our memberships and workforces will pose complex issues for meeting planners in the years to come. Let’s solve the easy ones and work around the religious beliefs of as many members and employees as we can. From such sensitivity comes loyalty and respect. Those hit the bottom line of any organization, don’t they?


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Joan Eisenstodt

Dear Patti Digh - thank you for this - for bringing the lessons to all and for discussion so that we can all learn and be more cognizant of others' belief systems and the significance. You clearly get it!

Beth Cooper-Zobott

This is a great column. One of the fundamentals of Meeting Planning 101 is to check dates (in addition to space and rates) to be assured that you are including as many people as possible in your event. and in addition to dates, we should be double and triple-checking content, symbols, and themes to be sure they are inclusive of all. Only by being open to diversity, and sensitive to the needs of others, can conferences and events be truly co-created to include everyone.

Chris Galvin

Dear Patti,
Succinct, eloquent and challenging...you write what I wish I could put into words. Thank you for your championing of what should occur to any thinking person. All of us need to be reminded that we bring our own perceptions to our work and in setting meetings need to examine those carefully for blindspots.
Thanks again.

Dianne Davis

Patti, Thank you for expressing what we all should be doing. It's too late in the 2000's to NOT practice agressive sensitivity. Some organizations may pretend they "make mistakes," "had an oversight," and lament "changing staff" for causing these kinds of issues. But you know what? We don't have to pretend a long with them any longer. Thank you, Dianne

Sekeno Aldred

Your posting is Right on Point!

I agree with both Beth and Diane; it is not okay to make a meeting planning 101 mistake. Are we not in a war for this very same reason?!

Thank you for this thought provoking post.


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