I think this has been yet another festive season in the UK that is rather turning into frustration realising how the tech company culture is not inclusive enough for me.
In a typical your-weird-startup-name December calendar event, you will find this big party plan happens to start months ago “carefully organised”. So many excited people across the team putting extra time and effort organising it. Venues are arranged, special themes are designed, even an internal band is formed etc. All of it then framed in a Christmas Party including a lot of pub/disco/club/night life and party cult.
As being a practicing Muslim living in this possible last era of humanity, it is really getting harder to avoid these. Some of my friends already let it go and joining these parties with soft drinks in their hands. I don’t judge their preferences but it do look awkward from my understanding of Islam.
Of course you can argue that well you don’t need to come to UK to live and work. I would argue back it is a human right choosing freely where to live and work and no one chose their parents or where they were born. So this is out of sight in terms of the context here.
This drama for me not only finishes on that day but also continues the following days. You see random laughters happening in around the office, random gestures, some photos flying in DMs, some random references to the night and so many emoji reactions on Slack… This goes and goes until people really get bored. What happens to the ones that really is not part of that culture silently sits in their corner and prays this finishes and passes quickly so we can be back to the business. I think the total productivity and motivation lost in this period due to these actives can be a serious research topic. I do believe it is making more harm than joy over team-bounding buzz.
Actually, there was one instance of this that has been planned and executed very well in all these years once in my career. It was when the team was smaller and everyone was somehow knowing each other’s preferences, red lines, cultural boundaries etc. It was organised as a year-end dinner in a nice dinner place that continued with bowling (definitely not in a club is the point here). It was really modest but still really big fun. I spent a quality time with my team members outside of the work in a really moderate environment. We shared and chatted an interesting 2-3 hours with people I don’t work closely. I really really liked that setup that felt me included, that felt me OK to bring my whole-self into the venue without looks, gestures. It was me as human as possible spending time with good people. I really felt that I was part of that team.
You may argue that it is not really a festive or Christmas party spirit that way but I’m not really against the festiveness or Christmas celebration here. I’m purely looking at how to build and sustain a team culture that can be as inclusive as possible by talking about a recurring event/theme happening in my career.
I’m against making this as a norm for everyone without really thinking the minority here. I do respect all people celebrating the way they want but making this as an official company perk or company cult and leaving some people outside of it is what saddens me. You can really build a company on this but should not expect or force anyone into this. There could be some more really interesting reasons for someone not to enjoy/join this not necessarily from being a Muslim but due to something else… You name it! Or wait you cannot name it, you don’t know if you are the reader as organiser or that founder/leader in that company. You cannot name it, you don’t have a platform to speak out if you are the reader as the one left out…
When companies talk about diversity, having more women in tech and all other diversity specific buzzwords, they really don’t care the big picture. I feel like they are just thinking some corporate social responsibility project items, some investor or external forced initiatives and update marketing website with blog posts, tweets, all happens in front of everyone. These all focus on races and genders, but not culture. It really feels like a form of hypocrisy!
However, when someone coming from a different culture, religion, region of the world raised differently, most of these diversity materials are rubbish to me. Let alone being a Muslim in tech industry is a massive minority issue, not having an inclusive culture is the real issue here. Diversity cannot be defined and constrained to race and gender at all. Diversity should be also and maybe majority of the time focusing on culture which has race, religion, gender and some other important things as subsets out of box.
Most probably I’ll make some people really annoyed with this but after having these syndromes all Decembers I worked in my career, I decided to rant about it. Yes, it is not an objective analysis, nor an assertion. It is pure ranting and criticism to all people I worked with all these years. I couldn’t have any opportunity to express this in my work places previously due to getting back those weird looks and gestures. So I decided to put this up on my website in case in my next role, a recruiter, a future team member or someone random could see and share a bit of empathy. Maybe empathy is not the right word here but they could see what kind of person I’m in their next “round of culture fit” interview. Really, I need to write another piece on culture fit interview round separately which is maybe one the biggest jokes of startup economy!
Honestly, I don’t really expect any response, any empathy at all and this is not going to change anything at all in the whole universe. I’m purely applying a teaching from my religion delivered by our prophet, Muhammad, peace be upon him. I’m also hoping, I’m not alone in this from different angles.
I can finish this piece now with a reference that is one of the fundamental thinking blocks of my life up in the public.
On the authority of Abu Sa’eed al-Khudree (ra) who said:
I heard the Messenger of Allah (saw) say, “Whoso- ever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.”