My Thanksgiving this year was the typical blend of fun and stress, as I hosted a feast for an international crowd. And while I wasn’t exactly expecting any epiphanies, certainly not about how to respect people’s cultural differences, that’s exactly what I got — and I am thankful for it.
I live in San Francisco, one of the most liberal and welcoming cities in the world. My boyfriend was visiting for a couple of weeks. He lives in another country, where he was born and raised. He spent his childhood in a remote, mountainous village where his mother and grandmother cooked in a one-room stone home with a hole in the ground for overnight baking. He is now a chef at a famous restaurant in a metropolitan city. I grew up in Southern California where we celebrated Thanksgiving traditionally: with roast turkey and my maternal grandmother’s homemade gravy and mashed potatoes, and my paternal aunt’s famous pumpkin pie.
I have roasted turkey and hosted Thanksgiving only once before, several years ago. This year, my boyfriend and I were hosting 15 guests, who hailed from the U.S., El Salvador, Taiwan, Germany, Turkey, Australia and Ireland. I had a file with notes and recipes from my Mom and clippings from Gourmet magazine.
I struggled from the beginning. Maybe you have a fondness for your family traditions, as I do. I feel I am a good cook. I know I have strong opinions. As we started cooking, I found myself anxious and argumentative about how things should be prepared, most importantly the turkey. Let me I remind you, my boyfriend is a professional chef. However he had never roasted a turkey, so I assumed my family tradition and Gourmet magazine should supersede my boyfriend’s ideas regarding how to cook a turkey (as well as side dishes such as stuffing, which he also never made before). I should mention that I typically follow recipes like a hawk follows a gopher on a hillside, relentlessly. My boyfriend is more free-form. When he is asked to follow a recipe, he reacts like a kindergartner held back from recess, sullen and squirmy.
We had many push me, pull you conversations, particularly regarding the traditional dishes. I forced myself to let go on some things, but on others, I held my ground, such as bringing the turkey to room temperature before roasting. The preparation ultimately became about collaboration and compromise. The turkey turned out fabulous, and I learned a few new ways to prepare some of my other old favorites, and the guests — and my boyfriend and I — had a marvelous time.
The next day, I reflected on the irony that my work is promoting diversity and inclusion, and yet when I was confronted with differences from my own traditions, I was extremely challenged.
That’s where my epiphany came in. Take my Thanksgiving experience and consider how you might be challenged by cultural differences in your own organization. Here are three tips to guide you in embracing those differences and creating a more inclusive environment, even if that environment involves preparing for a holiday gathering:
1) Acceptance. Accept that you grew up with rules, preferences, traditions and routines that may differ from the experiences of other people.
2) Unlearning. Be willing to “unlearn” what you think you know to be true or right.
3) Dialogue. Transparently share the challenges you are having regarding the different or unfamiliar, particularly if there is something you hold dear, like family traditions.
I help CEOs who want to build or grow diversity and inclusion on their boards. The more I do this work, the more I am humbled by my own unconscious and conscious biases. For that, I am thankful.
Kim Clancy is founder and CEO of search firm Hampton O’Bannon Partners, LLC (HOP, LLC).