Religious Diversity at Work believes that people’s faiths significantly impact their workplaces; and that trends in global economics, multiculturalism and employee mobility necessitate deeper mutual understanding among people of diverse faiths (and those whose identity is not defined by a faith). Through education, planning and communication, leaders can forge respectful work cultures that yield higher levels of personal engagement, richer collegiality, longer employee retention and decisions that are more robust, more ethical and more profitable.
To those ends, Religious Diversity at Work provides practical tools that unleash all employees so they can openly connect their personal life purposes and spiritual/religious “callings” to their work, while dissolving unwarranted and toxic fears and prejudices that erode trust and hinder teamwork.
With over 35 years' experience as a senior member of the General Counsel's office in a Fortune 100 company, I've supported and enabled effective strategic relationships among workplaces that sometimes had markedly different approaches to expressions of religion, atheism and other deeply personal values. I co-founded and led one of the first religion-based diversity employee resource groups in the world; and chaired the company's network of diversity initiatives; and am a frequent speaker in both secular and religious forums on faith in the workplace.
Additional Professional Qualifications
I am a highly experienced, analytical and results-oriented senior corporate counsel with demonstrated expertise in management consulting, religious diversity, legal ethics, dispute resolution, mergers/acquisitions/divestitures, product liability, regulatory compliance, medical/FDA, government transactions, and workplace diversity-related matters. A passionate advocate of diversity and inclusion, I advise organizations (like the one pictured above) on how appropriate expression of values embraced by the religions of the world can elevate employee recruitment, commitment, engagement, retention, ethics and personal fulfillment.
Why "RELIGIOUS Diversity?"
Here's why I've chosen to devote my career to promotion of religious diversity:
Workplaces provide unparalleled opportunities to strengthen the fabric of civility in our troubled world. At work, diverse people need to team everyday. They must rely on one another to achieve their objectives. If they are constrained by distrust, suspicion and doubt, teaming suffers.To truly flourish, teaming requires a foundation of mutual trust and respect.
Permitting all people of diverse religious affinities to engage on a deeper level with one another at work makes it possible to connect more profoundly and overcome the barriers of fear that constrain true collaboration.
In my experience over the past 17 years with several multinational companies, concerns about possible disruption from allowing religious discourse at work simply haven't been manifested in the workplace. To the contrary, communications have opened the door to better mutual understanding among people of various faiths; and that understanding has strengthened corporate cultures and enhanced recruitment, engagement, retention, ethics and personal fulfillment.
Harnessing the basic principles of many religions opens doors to advance beyond mere "tolerance" and toward mutually respectful, caring relationships among groups that all too often are seen as fundamentally opposed to one another. Examples of groups (some faith-based, some not) that are often presumed to have irreconcilable conflict with one another include Christian evangelicals, Muslims, Jews and atheists; religious fundamentalists and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees; and people of widely diverse ethnic and national backgrounds who hold differing attitudes toward genders, other nationalities, and generational gaps. These divisive presumptions give rise to suspicion of ulterior motives, conspiracy theories and unwarranted fears.
Why is religion relevant to the workplace? Most people worldwide believe in God. For many of them, their faith is the root of their deepest personal identity - even more determinative than their race, heritage, gender or any other factor. Their faith informs their work ethic, their notions of integrity and fairness, their ambitions and their hopes. Prohibiting expression of their faith is hugely counterproductive. If communications about faith are driven underground at work (by corporate policy or presumed constraints), then people of various faiths will communicate their deepest identity and thoughts only among people whom they know share their particular faith. This limitation on religious expression often spawns and magnifies fears about people of other faiths... fears that almost always are unfounded and hugely counterproductive.
Also concerning: Constraints on religious expression quash the energy, courage, integrity and creativity that faith can naturally fuel. The challenges are particularly heightened when a company with an overtly faith-based mission statement is acquired by a secular company, or vice versa. The cultural issues can be daunting.What can be done about this? A strong business case can be built for unleashing appropriate religious discourse at work. Then, productive steps can be taken to raise the curtain on religion at your company or organization.
Panel discussions can help start the dialogue, if the subject matter is focused on what people see as the impact their faith has on their everyday work. Other ideas include interfaith events in which people are not compelled to compromise their beliefs; and joint projects (such as outreach to poor communities) on which adherents of various faiths are in accord. There are many other approaches that have borne fruit.
In sum, the challenges and rewards of religious expression at work are huge. For too long, religious expression has been relegated to the "prayer closet" and to houses of worship; never to be exposed to people who are "not like us." Our employees ought to be freed to explain what they consider to be their deepest identity. There are ways to do this well, without pressuring anyone, so that workplace harmony, mutual understanding trust and warmth, and organizational effectiveness are significantly enhanced.
Last week, in a suburb of Athens (that's Greece, not Texas), I witnessed a deeply inspiring work by a small startup Protestant church.
In the midst of significant economic downturn and challenges of many kinds, Pastor George Tolias and his parishioners are reaching out to truly embrace a host of Iranian refugees in their city; people whose faith is very different from their own. Fear was nowhere to be seen. Iranian food, music and dance mixed with simple kindness, in a church building, with no strings attached. The outcome was joy, grace, goodwill, smiles and open doors for communication across religious divides. Experiences like this further strengthen my focus on religious diversity in workplaces everywhere.
Oh, that hopeful events like this would be reported by media, and would capture the hearts of people everywhere!
Who Makes Corporate Culture?
Who establishes the culture of a company? Of course, the answers vary widely; especially for companies that are closely held by dictatorial leaders... But in many cases, it's not just up to the owners and top executives.
Often, employees can exert significant influence on their company culture. If they are courageous, even a few lower-level employees can exert a significant impact on the culture of a large company. (If only a few of them had raised serious questions at VW early on, before the "cheater" devices were widely used!) Sometimes top managers are less able to truly impact the heart of a company than a common worker. As you noted, in a large company, people often expect the bosses to give "lip service" to ethical considerations - because that's what they must say - but workers presume (rightly or wrongly) that the bosses would expect them to do whatever it takes to achieve profit goals. Ethical leaders need the "rank and file" to truly get the message - that integrity matters.
When an "ordinary person" courageously objects to clearly unethical practices, the system is really tested. If the ethical objection is rewarded, a culture of integrity is strengthened. But even if the objection is ignored and the person is fired, the legitimate objection has an impact on the consciences of others. Others are inspired by such boldness. Integrity is infectious; and it makes truly illicit behavior very uncomfortable. And if the objection is unwarranted, discussing it openly should clarify why it's unwarranted.
In this context, I suggest that companies consider the impact of employees' religious belief (including atheism) on a corporate culture. In too many workplaces, it feels like dialogue about religious or spiritual motivations is strictly off-limits. My experience is that it's healthy to permit (and even encourage) dialogue among people of various faiths (including atheists, if they're so inclined) on the question of WHY we do what we do at work. Through that dialogue, workers can come to know one another better. And through the diverse exchange, wiser, better-informed decisions can be made.
To be clear, people who don't want to dialogue about religion's relationship to work should never feel compelled to do so. My point is that it's counterproductive to discourage dialogue among those who do find that topic engaging and important.
Appropriately promoting faith-based dialogue on workplace issues can have other positive impacts as well. Among other things, doing this well can help strengthen recruitment, affirm your workers and improve employee retention. But that's a topic for another blog.