Chinese New Year: a platform for cross cultural understanding

Happy Chinese New Year

Gong Xi Fa Cai, a Happy Chinese New Year to you! I am excited about the year of the Dog, as it is my Chinese zodiacal animal. In 2016 I watched the BBC series Chinese New Year: The Biggest Celebration on Earth with wonder and amazement. It’s heartening to see in the last ten years Chinese New Year being more widely recognised in the workplace. They key however is to take the learning from a cultural event to create a culturally competent working environment for the whole year.

Celebrating Chinese New Year at Work

Clearly, it is important not to be tokenistic when celebrating cultural events such as, Chinese New Year. If the driver is a symbolic effort to be inclusive or an excuse to have a party, this strategy will need some rethinking! Empowering key staff groups to take the lead on the celebrations, events, and evaluation is the first step. It also goes without saying, putting the lion’s share of the work onto someone who is overstretched is unlikely to have truly positive outcomes. Work with key stakeholders to find out what staff would value and what would be feasible. It may also be a good idea to partner with other staff networks, (local) community organisations or the Chinese part(s) of your business (where applicable).

Engaging Outside of Work

Encourage staff to attend events in their local area to educate and inform themselves of the significance and history of various cultural events. Work isn’t duplicated and resources available UK-wide are accessed. It’s all about constant learning. If staff, effectively citizens  can engage with culture in this way it has the potential of creating better workplace relationships. I was lucky enough to be invited to an exhibition this week, showcasing how the Chinese diaspora had made such a positive contribution to the UK. The British-Chinese Heritage Centre is a great place to start. They have digital information about the Chinese workforce in the UK, the contribution to the Armed Forces and of course the history of British Chinese food.

Utilise Staff Networks

Harness the knowledge, information and learning of your staff network. For example, EY have Diversity and Inclusiveness Networks, one of which is the Far Eastern Network (FEN). EY recognise that these networks are invaluable resources to the firm. They support attracting diverse new talent by contributing to the firm’s position as an employer of choice. Not only do they provide personal development and global networking opportunities, but they also facilitate engagement with clients and potential clients. They keep the business on its toes to ensure that inclusive practices are ‘business as usual’. Celebrating Chinese New Year will be led from a place of knowledge from the FEN resulting in meaningful and longer lasting consequences. Staff networks/affinity group/staff resource groups embed good practice enabling knowledge sharing across all functions.

Food as a driver

Bringing people together with food is always a winner. During my time at Imperial College London, I worked with the wonderful Betty Yue, former Chair of the Imperial as One network who worked with the catering team to develop a winning menu for the week. Betty would source a list of all the Chinese zodiacal horoscopes and have one printed and placed everywhere as a talking point.  It also brought staff and students from all backgrounds together. It was a way of creating a space to celebrate and educate. Alternatively, you could get staff to bring a Chinese dish to share in a pot luck fashion, which works very well too.

Ask Questions!

Finally, please don’t be afraid to ask questions, no-one can know everything about every culture. It’s the way you ask the question and the intention behind it that could potentially illicit a defensive response. Try and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Think about how you would like to be asked questions regarding Christmas celebrations in the UK. What kinds of questions would you be willing to answer? Use this concept of sensitivity to help formulate your questions and conversations.

I wish you all a prosperous and joyous Year of the Dog. As always, do let me know what you are doing by writing a comment below. Or send me a message on LinkedIn, tweet me @diversemindsuk or comment on Facebook.

Want to know about how I can support your work on cultural awareness? You can contact me here.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.