Diversity, Equity, Belonging and Inclusion

Religious diversity in the workplace: Nurturing understanding and respect

6 min read
Religious diversity in the workplace

Organizations across all sectors and industries are increasingly pulling together a diverse mix of individuals from all walks of life. With virtual teams crossing geographic boundaries, cities full of cultures and languages, and an increased awareness of the importance of varying perspectives, teams are beginning to acknowledge and even celebrate their diversity. 

And yet, while many aspects of diversity have become more frequently made public in the workspace, religion is one still often swept under the rug. It is sensitive, hitting as close to home as possible, and can get messy when people begin to express their religious views or practices.

There’s a growing need to facilitate positive discussion around religious diversity in the workplace, and encourage leaders, managers, and team mates alike to address the elephant in the room and enjoy the fruitful benefits that religious diversity can contribute to a team. 

What is religious diversity in the workplace? 

With a variety of backgrounds comes a diversity of religions. We all have core beliefs that inform our ideas, outlooks, actions, and interactions, which we inherently bring to the table when we do our work. This is religious diversity in the workplace. On a single team, we may easily find any mix of Atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, New Age Spirituality, or the many, many other religions and beliefs that help cultures and companies thrive. 

But more than just acknowledging that different people work on the same teams, talking about religious diversity brings up questions around whether we actually talk about our diverse religions. Do we make assumptions rather than start conversations? Do we give a decision-making voice to those historically marginalized? How do we bring up religious topics without causing offense? How do we create an environment that actively respects all the religions our team represents? 

Benefits of religious diversity in the workplace 

Religious diversity offers endless opportunities for growth within a team. In a respectful environment where everyone feels accepted, you feel comfortable enough to share perspectives that are different than, perhaps even challenging to, others. Your team members will do the same for you, and soon everyone sees the situation in a light they wouldn’t have considered had they been only surrounded by people who think like they do. This fusion of perspectives leads to an exciting synthesis of new ideas, innovative solutions, and cutting-edge techniques. Not only does it help us grow as individuals, but it foments our work and advances company goals. 

You can also better understand your colleagues by being open about religious diversity in the workplace. Religious teachings may dictate how employees dress, eat, and speak, on which days they work or don’t, and less visible influences like their perspectives on certain questions or ways they communicate and resolve conflict. Albeit a sensitive and sometimes messy topic, being open about religion in the workplace can in fact help avoid the buildup of misunderstanding surrounding these religious expressions. Learning to have conversations around religious diversity empowers team members to coexist respectfully even when their beliefs don’t align. 

Organizations promoting inclusivity see higher employee retention1. These team members report higher job satisfaction, better mental health, and an increased feeling of morale and belonging. 

Maintaining a religiously diverse team also makes it easier to connect and communicate with clients. You serve a diverse array of clients, so having team members with a variety of backgrounds may make it easier to connect with them on a more personal level. 

How to support religious diversity in the workplace 

Leaders can implement change in their teams by learning how to positively manage religious diversity in the workplace. Normalizing these practices into team culture can create an environment that’s conducive to a harmonious coexistence of beliefs. 

Facilitate conversations

Remove the fear around talking about religions when they come up. Make it common practice to share and listen when a religion dictates certain practices that show up in the office, using the moment to bring the team together and create mutual understanding. 

Add floating holidays 

With a diversity of religions comes a range of holidays; allot a certain number of “floating holidays,” paid holidays that employees may elect to take on the days of their choosing. 

Create an environment of respect

This may seem like a given, but it is important to underline that teams may create an environment of unintentional discrimination. If most of your team shares the same religion, it’s easy to enjoy that connection to the point of inadvertently ostracizing the rest of the team or creating a culture of peer pressure to subscribe to the same beliefs. Make intentional efforts to be inclusive and respectful.

Address harassment and discrimination head-on

If you see signs of discrimination within your team, or someone reports it to you, don’t sweep it under the rug. Nip it in the bud with conversations and, if necessary, disciplinary action, so that it does not become acceptable group culture. 

Make physical space for prayer and meditation

Dedicating an area of prayer and meditation provides an invitation for your team members to express themselves, increasing comfort and a feeling of acceptance. 

Make allowances in dress codes for religious expression

Some religions have strict practices around appearance, including presentation of dress and grooming. Make exceptions to your dress code if it interferes with these customs, letting your employees know that you value them and their beliefs. 

Earn your diversity leadership certification with Becker CPE 

Establishing religious diversity in the workplace starts with you. Becker is proud to empower leaders with the knowledge and skills to implement this change, through CPE certificates in workplace diversity. 

Help your team grow an environment that celebrates religious diversity and enjoy the personal and business gains that result.

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