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This is what holiday parties need in 2021

Work holiday parties don’t need belonging; they need equity

Jason R. Thompson //November 30, 2021//

This is what holiday parties need in 2021

Work holiday parties don’t need belonging; they need equity

Jason R. Thompson //November 30, 2021//


Many of us have heard the analogy that being invited to the dance is diversity, and being invited to actually dance is inclusion and belonging is somehow the next step.

Some suggest that belonging is not just being asked to dance, but having the DJ play your favorite song or knowing the playlist.

As we begin the holiday season, and plan company holiday parties, focus on equity; not belonging.

What is equity?

Equity means ‘I don’t want to dance with you and knowing I can do so without retribution or retaliation.’ Belonging sounds great, but I don’t belong to you and employees don’t belong to their organizations. The word has an inherent connotation of ownership or obligation, which in my mind, is fundamentally wrong. I will settle for fair pay and a raise…equity.

Just because you dim the lights and turn on the music doesn’t mean I have to dance with you. There should be no retribution for not dancing with you or the assumption that I should be dancing with you. What does this mean in a real work environment?

What does belonging look like at the holiday party?

At a company holiday party, there are often symbols of Christmas that are not “really Christmas,” like Christmas trees or jokes like, “Can’t we just say Christmas!” Well, to belong, it is easier to just let all that go and participate because calling these items out brings down the party or implies somehow you are opposed to religion.

As we all know, questioning company culture has consequences because if you don’t know how to belong to the group, you don’t get promotions and opportunities. Minoritized groups know how to belong and do so at the sacrifice of their personal values and beliefs.

Equity means every employee can speak freely without consequence. I am not suggesting, employees should say offensive or hurtful things. Rather, when you approach the one Jewish person on the team and say, “We are having a holiday party you don’t mind if we decorate a tree do you?” or “We are serving pork. Can you just pick around it?” That is not inclusion, but belonging. A decision has already been made and you are asking them to go along without complaining.

These questions are about ‘will you be a part of our group or not?’Any person who has been put in these positions knows there is only one answer to these questions because if you decline the invitation to decorate the Christmas tree and request other items be added to the menu, you will be judged and everyone in the department will know you are a problem. You do not belong. You are not a team player. The reality is that in this situation one cannot say, “No.” They also can’t give you permission on behalf of everyone that shares their faith, race, sexual orientation or gender so please don’t ask.

Belonging means you ask me to dance with conditions. It means you ask me questions and make statements with the intention of inclusion but without equity. You want to be able to speak without worrying about how you might be judged while you judge me for how I respond to your questions that can be demeaning, insensitive and insulting.

Equity means we are all willing to listen to the uncomfortable truths and accept the reality that our words can be hurtful. Even if your intent was not to be offensive, I have the right to be offended and speak that truth. We don’t have to belong to speak our truth. Equity gives space to different realities and histories. People can come to the party and not drink; you can still serve alcohol. Allow individuals to come to the party and not be judged for how they participate.

How do we have inclusive holiday parties?

Here are three tips to make this holiday season a joyous one.

1) Celebrate. We can celebrate together, eat and drink without asking each other to deny our personal beliefs or values. In a business or personal setting, it is best not to invite people to your house and ask them to pray and worship in another religion for which they do not believe.

2) Respect. Do not ask anyone for permission to do something that would be inconsistent with their values or beliefs. I don’t have to dance with you to be your friend or colleague. Equally important, don’t ask others to give you permission on behalf of everyone that shares their identity.

3) Have fun. There are many ways to have fun. Some dance, some talk and others eat. We should honor and value that each of us can enjoy participating in our own unique ways. This holiday season we celebrate all of us.

Jason R. Thompson releases a new book, Diversity and Inclusion Matters in December 2021. The book shares practical tips on how to implement DE&I practices and perspectives in the workplace and society. Jason has over 25 years of experience building, managing, and consulting with DE&I programs of national and international scale. To learn more, visit Follow Jason R. Thompson on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.