America is struggling with its diversity – race, religion, lifestyle choice, economic class. Every day in the media, we see one group arguing their point of view and another group arguing back. It exposes people’s fears of losing what is important to them and their sense of what is fair and just. The arguments over immigration ask Americans to think about who should be included in our nation’s story and future. It can bring up ugly stereotyping and collective amnesia that unless you’re Native American, you too come from immigrants.
We’re a country of immigrants; some of our families came here in 1609, others came in 2009, but it’s fundamentally the same. We forget this too easily. We forget that the arrival of each group sets off similar cries that these new people will hurt America, change our culture, make us weaker. Historians and economists widely agree that immigration has made America the economic success we see today.
This broad perspective indicates that now is no different. At Rhino Foods, we know that diversity and the inclusion of new groups of people is a powerful way to grow business and support our community. Rhino Foods has hired refugees for over 20 years and currently refugees make up 37% of our workforce. Sadly, our own refugee hiring reflects the pattern of wars and destruction in other countries. In the 1990s it was Bosnia; now the largest numbers are from Bhutan, Nepal, and a number of African countries.
The cultural diversity at Rhino exposes us to each other’s favorite foods, traditions, and life experiences. What seemed foreign becomes an everyday experience. This happens organically at the individual level, but effectively building an inclusive business culture doesn’t happen without work. The effort requires top leadership buy-in, education, and continued nurturing and adjustment based on learning and feedback from the workforce.
One step Rhino Foods has taken for inclusion is to acknowledge two important holidays with additional paid time off. In November, we honor the Hindu holiday of Diwali. In the summer, we honor the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. In this manner we’re recognizing what is relevant to segments of our workforce, not just what is relevant to the majority. We share the meaning of the holidays and how they are celebrated in multiple ways within our company to create many touch-points and help educate ourselves.
November 7th marked the beginning of Diwali this year. Celebrations vary from country to country, but have a common root. This festival of lights represents the symbolic victory of light over dark, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil. For Nepalese, Diwali is a five-day celebration with rituals honoring family, the goddess of wealth and long life, and culturally important animals. Food, family, friends, and fun take center stage. Homes are full of color and light and noise.
Maybe America could do with a secular version of Diwali. Celebrating knowledge over ignorance, hope over fear would do us all good. The pleasure of being part of a community celebration, sharing food and laughter, wishes for prosperity and health are core to all people regardless of ethnicity or lifestyle. Like a family, America will always have disagreements and members we understand more easily than others. But like that cousin you don’t see eye-to-eye with, they still get invited to holiday gatherings, because they are family and they belong.