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Design an Inclusive Holiday Party (or Anything, Really!)

This article was based on episode 231 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members of the Modern Manager community get two months of Fast Forward membership for free. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

The winter holidays are coming up, which can bring up many different emotions. While the end of year holidays are generally a positive experience in my life, that may not be the case for everyone. And I know how uncomfortable it can feel when someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas” without stopping to wonder how that might sound to my Jewish self. Whether people celebrate Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, or none of the above, managers can create inclusive cultures where all of their team feels seen.

To navigate this tricky landscape with care, Dr. Jen O’Ryan’s joins us to share insights into how to design content, culture, and processes that are welcoming and inclusive. With a PhD in Human Behavior, Dr. Jen is a consulting editor specializing in Inclusion, Diversity, and Representation. Here, Dr. Jen shares how to create the necessary foundation of psychological safety so that your team feels safe to speak up, and simple ways to design a holiday party that celebrates your entire team.


The first step to designing an end of year party happens long before the party begins. We need to be constantly laying the groundwork of psychological safety so that our team feels open to giving us important feedback. To do this, take care to show up as a vulnerable leader, willing to own your mistakes. Always make it known that your door is for questions, concerns, or input. And ask your team as often as possible if things are working for them. For example, don’t just assume that early morning meetings are doable. Reach out individually to see if that meeting time works. You might be surprised to discover some people have childcare constraints that make it hard for them to focus at that hour or that a commute so early is twice as long because of the timing of traffic. Being receptive to needs will build the trust and psychological safety necessary for your team to feel safe in speaking up and collaborating with you on building truly inclusive spaces.


Put Yourself in Others’ Shoes

Above all, in order to create inclusive spaces (or products or marketing campaigns), consider how different people would experience it. For a holiday party, how would it feel for someone who is Muslim? Single? Introverted? Disabled? By taking a step back and fully considering other ways of being, you design parties with others’ needs in mind.

Be Explicit and Ask What Your Team Wants

Guessing what holidays each person celebrates is an unnecessary recipe for disaster. There’s nothing simpler than actually hearing the information straight from your teammates. Ask each person individually (or through a Google form if you’ve already built that trust) if they’re comfortable sharing what holidays they celebrate and what that means for them. Do they take time off or have other needs or constraints? Ask how you might support them during this time and if there is anything the team should know.

Educate Yourself

Make sure to do your own research! Learn about all of the different winter holidays and how they are usually celebrated. Google is a manager’s best friend to begin your knowledge quest. But don’t stop there! Make sure to continue educating yourself, and find experts who can also give you and your team objective knowledge. And, don’t make assumptions. Just because Google says it’s a common practice to eat jelly donuts on Hanukkah doesn't mean that every Jewish person on your team does.

Not Everyone Loves the Holidays

The holiday season can also bring up a lot of grief for people who are estranged from their family or without loved ones nearby. These feelings of sadness might show up as people mentally checking out at work and having more difficulty completing work. Be mindful that some might feel less celebratory and more in need of more support during this time. Prepping your team with this perspective will also help them be mindful of how they show up and support their colleagues during this time.

Celebrate Yourselves, Not a Religion

Think about the language that you use around your holiday party. If not everyone celebrates Christmas, why label it a “Christmas Party” or even a “Holiday Party”? Instead, ask your team what they want to celebrate at the end of this calendar year. What have they accomplished in this past year individually, as a team, or as an organization? Frame the party (including the messaging, title, and images associated with it) around these reflections. By aligning the party with your team’s achievements, you can funnel that joy into the celebration and next year’s goals.

A successful, inclusive winter celebration isn’t as simple as buying streamers and hoping for the best. We need to be aware of how each person might experience the party from their perspective. Build psychological safety so that your teammates feel comfortable giving you feedback or input. Then reach out to your teammates directly. Find out what everyone needs during the holiday season. And remember that the holidays bring a lot of joy for some, and a lot of difficulty for others. When we put ourselves in other people’s shoes, we gain a new understanding of different ways of walking through the world. This sensitivity allows us to create spaces in which all of our team can feel seen and celebrated.


Get 1 of 3 copies of Jen’s book, Inclusive AF: A Field Guide for “Accidental” Diversity Experts, when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at

This article was based on episode 231 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


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