Years ago I traveled with an HR team that was conducting audits of some organizations in the Deep South. At one location, the HR Manager led us in prayer before lunch in the company conference room. In the ensuing conversation, we discovered that our team included two Catholics, a Baptist, a non-practicing Christian, a Buddhist, and an Atheist. While this may sound like the lead in to a bad joke, I think it is reflective of today’s workforce.
When we do diversity and inclusion training, organizations are often focused on being inclusive of other races, ages, genders, ideologies, and sexual orientations. Although these areas are very important and discussed frequently, let’s not forget about diversity of religion and being inclusive of others. According to Pew Research 78% of the U.S. population is Christian. That leaves 22% who believe in something, or nothing, else. I challenge you to be conscious of this 22% when implementing policies within your organization.
At one organization, I had an employee come to me to say he couldn’t attend his birthday lunch celebration at work because it fell during Ramadan. Fortunately it was an easy fix, but it had the potential of being really awkward if he had not felt comfortable talking to me and if I hadn’t been open to his concerns.
In another situation, an employee who had attended our diversity and inclusion training stopped me on a return visit. His point? He was a practicing Wiccan and had been being teased about it by his co-workers. After the training, the harassment stopped.
While we like to hear the success stories, we think this an area that could use more attention. For example, we’re seeing more and more bereavement policies that include time off for same sex spouses, but we haven’t seen many holiday schedules with accommodations for non-Christian religions.
Unless your organization is specifically a faith based organization, here’s what we recommend as a model for religious inclusion:
1. Make it clear that you welcome people of all faiths.
2. Don’t evangelize your own faith at work. Feel free to go door to door on weekends, but keep this to yourself at work.
3. Incorporate some floating holidays into your policy to accommodate those who celebrate non-Christian holidays.
4. Don’t encourage or support organized religious activities at work.
The best way to improve inclusion is to create a culture that is open enough to discuss differences and open enough to embrace them, whatever they may be.