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Planning Tech Events with Religious and Cultural Calendar Sensitivity

bengreenberg profile image Ben Greenberg ・6 min read

Introduction

My first exposure to broad religious and cultural calendrical sensitivity occurred during my first career as a clergyperson and college chaplain. While serving on the board of the Harvard Chaplains, an interfaith and secular umbrella organization of campus chaplains, we were tasked with creating campus events throughout the year. It had occurred to me prior to that role to take into consideration Jewish and Christian calendars. After all, in the United States, those are almost included by default in most calendar planning applications, but our job was a lot more expansive at that point.

Around the table sat representatives of the Zoroastrian, different Hindu, Buddhist, Secular Humanist, Muslim, and other traditions. There were also a multiplicity of Christian denominations represented, each with their own set of traditions and practices.

When you look at the combined calendar of nearly 30 different cultural and religious calendars, it can be daunting to try to find a date for an event. How do you choose one date without excluding someone?

This question not only surfaces around explicitly cultural and/or religious events. It is an essential question of inclusivity, regardless of the topic of the event. Do you want all people to feel included? Do you desire a broad spectrum of attendance? Do you want to be intentional about grounding your event in openness and diversity? If you do, then you must consider the calendrical sensitivity of an array of religious, cultural and ethnic communities.

(For the purposes of this blog post. I have defined as separate entities "religious", "cultural" and "ethnic" for simplicity sake. Yet, be aware, that for many people, these terms are intertwined and interconnected.)

Recently, this came up as a Twitter conversation when I posted my disappointment that, at least for the second year, a prominent Ruby conference has scheduled its conference to coincide with Passover, thereby making it inaccessible to people like me. I received many thoughtful (and some not so thoughtful) responses to my post. Primary amongst the challenging responses to me was the same overriding concern:

How do you possibly schedule a conference mindful of calendrical diversity without offending someone? Isn't it better to just ignore cultural diversity in the calendar and thereby offend everyone equally?

We are going to cover the following principles and actions that I believe, in my experience, go a long way in fostering cultural and religious calendrical sensitivity in event planning:

  1. Who's at the table?
  2. Open the windows
  3. Embrace failure

Who's at the table?

The notion that companies, organizations, conference panels and more should be representative of its people is not a new idea. However, for some reason and for many people, that inclusion ends at the door of religious and cultural diversity. There is still so much work to do in gender and racial inclusivity. We are so far from achieving true diversity in those areas. Yet, when it comes to inclusivity of religious and cultural diversity, many people do not even see religion and culture as points to consider, at all.

This perspective I have experienced is most prevalent amongst Europeans, where I have been told numerous times, that culture and religion are "only personal choices," and as such are not deserving of consideration during event planning. Even if we agree that religious and/or cultural affiliation is a choice, so what? Is personal autonomy not a value? Should people not be welcomed or considered as full members of a community because they choose to affiliate with a religious and/or cultural tradition?

There is way too much bias to unpack in this predominantly European perspective within the constraints of this article, but at the very least, what a person views as "choice" is heavily influenced by one's cultural and socio-economic background. To diminish one person's life, beliefs and traditions as "only a choice" is in itself an act of cultural violence and supremacy.

All of this is by way of saying, that the first step to calendrical sensitivity is to make sure you have the right people around the table influencing the decision making. How many products were unveiled only to cause great embarrassment to their companies once a major oversight was discovered because no women or people of color were in the product design meetings?

One person tried to rebut my disappointment that, yet again, a major conference schedules itself during a major holiday season, by copy and pasting the list of religious holidays from a Wikipedia article. His point was there are so many holidays, it's impossible to plan around them.

This is true if you are the only one planning. What would it look like if you intentionally crafted an advisory committee of people representing the cultures and traditions that interact with your conference? How do you find out who interacts with your conference? Ask them! I guarantee that if an email came out from conference organizers announcing a new committee for religious and cultural sensitivity and asking for participation, that would be overwhelmingly well received.

You can only do your best to plan for calendrical sensitivity for cultures and religions that are not around the table. But, if you make a great effort to provide a space for people to show up, take a seat around the organizing table, and offer their voices, then you can plan with confidence with those who are present.

The person who copied and pasted an untold number of holiday names into a Twitter response to me did not know enough to articulate the different prioritizations for each holiday within each tradition. Neither do I. However, in regards to the Jewish holidays he pasted, I immediately knew which ones were more flexible and which were less so. That is because it is my community and my people. Let's create the opportunity and space for others to accurately represent their communities and their peoples in the planning of our conferences and gatherings.

Open the windows

Once you have a more representative group of people advising the calendrical decisions from across a spectrum of religious and cultural diversity, your next step is to open the windows. A bit of fresh air can go a long way.

What does it mean to open the windows in this context? What I mean is be transparent about your calendar decision. Now that you have a group of people who can help offer advice in setting the date, inevitably a decision will be made. An essential aspect to remember is that even with a cross-cultural and cross-religious advisory group, you still may have a date conflict. The difference lies entirely in the process of how you got there.

At this point, you are empowered to speak with confidence for why that date had to be chosen. You can discuss the factors that went into it. You can acknowledge the difficulties in choosing it. Chances are that if you have a truly representative group of people helping you, you won't be caught off guard by a calendrical consideration you had not thought of.

Opening the windows and being transparent about your process and the reasons for the decision helps people feel less excluded by a decision, even when the actual decision is exclusionary. In other words, the date choice may exclude me, but if I know the process that went behind it, the awareness from the organizers of that exclusion, and can see that people like me are a part of the structure, it can go a long way in mitigating the feelings of exclusion.

Embrace failure

This last point can be counter-intuitive. How can embracing failure possibly be a positive thing? We live in a society that takes failure, stuffs it under the carpet, steps on it repeatedly and hopes that no one ever notices that lump under their feet when they come in.

Failure, though, can be our greatest teacher. What was the first thing we learn as developers? Embrace the error message. Perhaps, the difference between the novice developer and the more experienced is the reaction to error messages. Do they cause you to pull your hair out or do they cause you to grow and adapt (and maybe sometimes pull your hair out also)?

In the quest to be sensitive to cultural and religious calendars, you will make a mistake. In fact, it is inevitable. You will fail at it. This is not easy work. It is not easy to be truly inclusive. An all-male panel will happen. An inappropriate comment will be said. A date will be picked on a major holiday without any process.

In those moments, embrace the mistake. Don't double down in the failure because of pride or ego. Own it, acknowledge it, and learn from it. Your attendees will see it and deeply appreciate it.

Conclusion

There is a lot more to be said on this topic, but in short, following these three practices can help go a long way:

  • Who's at the table (or Nothing about us without us)
  • Open the windows
  • Embrace Failure

This is not a magic formula. You won't get it right the first time, and you might not get it right the tenth time. However, the more intentional you are about it, the more thought you give it, the better the outcome will be.

Posted on by:

bengreenberg profile

Ben Greenberg

@bengreenberg

Rabbi turned Coder. Second Career Dev taking it one function at a time.

Discussion

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I didn't even have to read the full article to know this is something we've probably all overlooked! Thanks for adding it.

 

I'm so here for this!

I've lost count of how many great conferences I've had to self-select out of because they overlap with a Saturday (Shabbat) or a Jewish holiday.

I understand scheduling can be tricky and I generally don't expect the world to revolve around my needs, but if I hear of a conference or event that went out of its way to accommodate a calendar conflict that automatically let's me know that's a conference yet values inclusivity.

If any conference organizers ever want someone to look over a schedule for conflicts with the Jewish calendar I'll be very happy to help!

 

Interesting article. I am always up for inclusivity and I find that the road for real true inclusion is still long.
I am not a rastaman nor even closely a reggae fan but i always like quoting Bob Marley's song War ( which quotes Haile Selassie )

until the colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes .. until that day .. the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship will remain but a fleeting illusion.

Unfortunately, I don't really feel to agree with you when it comes to religious sensitivity because as you pointed out - I firmly believe that religion is indeed a personal choice.
That does not mean that I don't care about it - and I too find that if an organizer chooses a specific date over another that could indeed be an act of cultural - religious supremacy over a minority.

Simply, I don't feel such an urge to defend this. Sorry. :-)

Nevertheless, trying to be kind and inclusive to anyone does no harm.
So if an organizer has the time and budget to do that, well good. but please don't feel offended.

By the way. could you please mention some cultural sensitivity examples beside religion?

 

Hey, thanks for your comment!

I love the quote from Bob Marley, and totally agree that "trying to be kind and inclusive to anyone does no harm," which is why I offered some practical tips in the post about how to be calendrically sensitive! :)

I do think it's interesting that just about every reasonable person agrees nowadays that gender, mobility, racial diversity are non-negotiable. That, as you know, was not the case for a long time, and is only recently such an obvious idea for lots of people.

However, we still have problems with thinking that people's lifestyle, regardless of how much of a choice it is or is not, should also be included in inclusion work. You could say that a diversity of ideas is exactly what makes us human! Respecting and being mindful of that diverse marketplace of ideas is actually respecting our humanity.

re: cultural calendar sensitivity -- absolutely! First of all, speaking personally, being Jewish is not only about religion. It is a cultural expression, an ethnic expression, and a national expression, all together, so special dates on the calendar are not only religious dates, but also cultural, ethnic and national. But, more broadly, we just passed Cinco de Mayo, which is an important cultural and national date for Mexicans worldwide.

Have a great day! :)

 
Sloan, the sloth mascot Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community View code of conduct

This perspective I have experienced is most prevalent amongst Europeans, where I have been told numerous times, that culture and religion are "only personal choices," and as such are not deserving of consideration during event planning. Even if we agree that religious and/or cultural affiliation is a choice, so what? Is personal autonomy not a value? Should people not be welcomed or considered as full members of a community because they choose to affiliate with a religious and/or cultural tradition?

As a European, I totally agree with the point of it being a personal choice and you have to take into account the things you are going to lose when deciding which religion to follow.

We have a very very very long, bloody and cruel history with religion in here to the point that most of us feel uncomfortable with bringing religion to the front or we feel attacked when other people religions try to do something.

In my country, Roman Catholics are very outspoken against LGTBI and left winged people and some even speak openly about executing anyone who doesn't think like them. Why I should respect those people?

If you cannot do something because is the Shabbat, I respect your right to not do it, I will ensure that you have that right, but I will not accommodate anything for your religious belief. Those limitations are something that comes when you choose to follow Judaism and I will not accommodate anything or go out of my way for your fairy tale.

Do you have an accessibility problem? I will go out of my way to ensure you can enter the building.
Do you have a religion problem? go speak with your god/gods but don't bring your god/gods problems to me.

 

Thank you for exemplifying the perspective I wrote about perfectly.

 
Sloan, the sloth mascot Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community View code of conduct

But you do not argue about why we should accommodate your religious needs. In fact, in Europe, is usually considered quite rude to ask people to accommodate your religious belief.

As I said, we have a quite long history of religious oppression, cruelty and murder thanks to religion. Why someone must accommodate for the literal choice some other person has made?

Being gay is not a choice. Having a mobility problem is not a choice. Having a hearing or vision problem is not a choice and therefore is right to ask for others to adapt to it but what right do you have to ask the same just because you chose to believe what some people wrote thousands of years ago?

Hi Adrián,

Since you insist, I will gladly respond.

First of all, please recognize that reciting to me the litany of Europe's transgressions towards its minorities is unnecessary. My family has been irreversibly scarred for generations because of centuries of European oppression, anti-Semitism and attempted genocide. I know all too well the history of Europe every time I think of the untold family that I will never meet because Europeans murdered and butchered them.

While knowing that it is an oversimplification, what I am about to articulate is a useful oversimplification nonetheless: The historical European response to "the other" in its midst has been rejection. The current European zeitgeist to respond to "the other" in its midst is pretend it does not exist. I contend that there is another ground between murder and rejection on one hand and refusal to acknowledge and honor difference on the other hand.

What is that different space? Well, it begins by thinking more closely about the way you articulate yourself. When you construct an argument that begins with asking "Why someone must accommodate..." or "is right to ask for others to adapt..." you are no longer discussing inclusion and diversity work. You are constructing a hierarchical relationship, with you as the majority-culture European on top, and everyone else as someone to consider whether you will adapt or accommodate or not. Do you not see how that is just a perpetuation of the same European problem for centuries?

I do not ask for your accommodation. I ask to be considered as a full member of the community.

Do you know what that means? It means not having to tolerate you telling me if my practices come from "god/gods," as you stated, or how much of a choice my life truly is.

Let me share something important with you: I do not care what you think of my life and the culture I am part of. I do not care if you think that I think it comes from a theological construct or a sociological one or a socio-ethnic cultural one. I do not care what you think vies-a-vie the balance between determination and autonomy is in the makeup of the decisions of my life.

What then do I care about? I care that I am respected as a human being that is treated with dignity and integrity. If seeking the advice of the constituent diversity of people around a tech event as to what dates to be mindful of when planning is too much of an "adaptation" for you, than I really don't know what to say, except that is most certainly not inclusivity.

All the best,

Ben

Sloan, the sloth mascot Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community View code of conduct

First of all, please recognize that reciting to me the litany of Europe's transgressions towards its minorities is unnecessary. My family has been irreversibly scarred for generations because of centuries of European oppression, anti-Semitism and attempted genocide. I know all too well the history of Europe every time I think of the untold family that I will never meet because Europeans murdered and butchered them.

This is cheap. Do we start talking about Palestine? Christians have tortured and killed some of my family members in a war not even a century ago that was proclaimed almost a crusade against the "red menace" not all European history is what the Nazis did, in fact, we have little problems with Jews nowadays.

Every time someone starts talking about taking into account religion I cannot help but remember how, no more than 40 years ago, the church held almost absolute power in my country and how in the name of god they snatched babies from their mothers to give them to "good Christian families" and the other horrors that comes with religion.

While knowing that it is an oversimplification, what I am about to articulate is a useful oversimplification nonetheless: The historical European response to "the other" in its midst has been rejection. The current European zeitgeist to respond to "the other" in its midst is pretend it does not exist. I contend that there is another ground between murder and rejection on one hand and refusal to acknowledge and honor difference on the other hand.

Europe since the second world war has been advancing like no other place in the world to help and protect minorities. I sincerely doubt there is any other place in the world with more religious freedom or personal liberty.

What is that different space? Well, it begins by thinking more closely about the way you articulate yourself. When you construct an argument that begins with asking "Why someone must accommodate..." or "is right to ask for others to adapt..." you are no longer discussing inclusion and diversity work. You are constructing a hierarchical relationship, with you as the majority-culture European on top, and everyone else as someone to consider whether you will adapt or accommodate or not. Do you not see how that is just a perpetuation of the same European problem for centuries?
I do not ask for your accommodation. I ask to be considered as a full member of the community.

When we, at least in my country, speak that way it usually represents society. And again, I do not know if you have ever been to Europe but we live alongside people from all backgrounds and countries as one society, at least in my country and city. I have worked with and for people from all kind of backgrounds and genres.

There is a saying for situations like this:

Religion is like a penis. It's fine to have one and it's fine to be proud of it, but please don't whip it out in public and start waving it around... and PLEASE don't try to shove it down my child's throat.

And I feel that with your post you try to wave it around.

I will no longer engage with you and continue to be condescended and insulted by you. Calling the experience of my family "cheap" is incredibly hurtful and insulting. Resorting to using vulgar language to make your point only betrays your own ability to actually make it. It seems clear to me that you have not actually engaged with many people in minority communities in Europe today, if you think things are so rosy.

Sloan, the sloth mascot Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community View code of conduct

I called cheap to use the Holocaust as a win argument card.

When have I been disrespectful? To this point the only one that has called a whole continent bigot with a superiority complex is you.

And I have engaged with minorities a lot because in here we do not send them behind a wall while our military shots the ones that try to go over that wall.

If you are unable to interact with a Jewish person without gratuitously bringing up the Middle East, well, you might have an anti-Semitism problem.

Sloan, the sloth mascot Comment marked as low quality/non-constructive by the community View code of conduct

I brought that up because of your attacks on my people and culture.

And I don't have any problem with Jews or any other Semitic people, in fact, I have some friends that are Jewish and I would like to visit some of the Synagogues that my city has because I have never been in one. I have a problem with people that, without proof, attacks my people and makes generalisations while getting offended when others point problems their people have.

This is a helpful comment, Adrian, thank you. So if I understand you correctly, you made some of your comments because you were feeling offended, hurt and/or insulted by how I depicted a pervasive European perspective on religious diversity nowadays and you wished to express that hurt?

What I wrote about what I experienced to be a dominant European perspective, you opened your first comment by expressing your full agreement with it:

"As a European, I totally agree with the point of it being a personal choice and you have to take into account the things you are going to lose when deciding which religion to follow"

It seems to me then that you are in agreement with that depiction, but you do not like how I characterize it? You see it as a positive, and I see it as a negative. Do you think our personal life experiences combined with our familial and collective experiences shape the ways we perceive this perspective?

When I was working in interfaith work, I was invited to partake in a joint Jewish, Muslim and Christian dialogue in Aix-en-Provence. I will never forget the young Muslim Parisian woman who broke down crying describing how she feels like an outcast in French society because of the policy of Laïcité. Two years ago I visited a Syrian refugee camp outside of Berlin and heard similar sentiments of estrangement, alienation and rejection.

I, personally, have been yelled and cursed at on the streets in Brussels and Athens within the past few months.

For people who see their religious, cultural or ethnic heritage as intrinsic to who they are can you see how telling them to treat it like their most private body part, as in to hide it and only take it out in the most private of settings, can be seen as the very opposite of diversity and inclusivity?

More broadly, perhaps we can both agree that each person wears different shoes and sees the world through different eyes and experiences society in different bodies. Our own personal experiences can shape how we see the same pervasive perspective in such different ways. I would argue that it is on the onus of the majority culture in a society to work harder to see through the eyes, and the embodied experiences of its minorities. On that last point, I hope we can both agree.

Have a good night.