“I wish there was a religion that would not let people either hate or hurt each other.”
This is the first part of a three-part blog series that explores religious diversity: key concepts, facts, barriers and enablers. Although this is a theme with many legal implications, I’m focusing on the knowledge and leadership behaviours, beyond minimum legal requirements, that will empower you to attract and engage people of all faiths, including people with no faith.
Today, we’re looking at 3 key concepts to create a faith-friendly work environment.
Societies are increasingly multicultural, and with different cultures come different religious
Three trends make religious diversity an important topic for business leaders today:
- Societies are increasingly multicultural, and with different cultures come different religions.
- More and more people want to bring their full selves to the workplace. To many, particularly members of ethnic minorities, their faith and their religious practice are important aspects of their identity.
- At the same time, religious intolerance is on the rise. For instance, fear of persecution affects Jews across Europe, with 23% of Jews surveyed in eight European countries stating that they avoided Jewish events or sites because they feared for their safety.[i]
Religion is a historically sensitive topic, as many wars and tragedies related to religion have taken place in the past. The uneasiness that religious diversity brings can be particularly strong in countries with a secular tradition, such as France, where public religious displays may encounter disapproval by the general population. I recently attended a conference in Paris about religion in the workplace. Most speakers opened their presentations saying that religious diversity was an asset. However, most of them spoke about religious practices as a risk to be managed.
1- Freedom of religion
Freedom of religion is the fundamental human right to believe or not in religion. The right not to be discriminated on religious grounds is also a universal human right. But there’s an important distinction between the right to believe and the right to practice a religion. The right to believe is absolute: you’re totally free to believe or not in whatever belief system you want. The right to practice religion in the workplace can be limited under certain circumstances (see below).
2- Indirect discrimination
This concept is particularly relevant regarding religious diversity, although it applies to all types of diversity. It happens when a practice that applies to everyone disadvantages people of a certain religion. For example: by introducing a uniform which does not permit head coverings, you would be indirectly discriminating female Muslims wearing a hijab or Sikhs wearing a turban.
3- Reasonable accommodations
In many countries, employers are required to accommodate religious practices of employees, unless doing so creates an undue hardship for employers. As an inclusive leader, you should try to accommodate employee’s religious needs as much as possible. What’s reasonable will vary, depending on the country where you are and the employee’s role. But there’s a simple framework you can use in most cases. Asking yourself the following questions can help you determine whether an accommodation is reasonable:
- Does it negatively affect the employee’s ability to do their job? Wearing a hijab usually doesn’t affect a person’s ability to do their job.
- Does it negatively impact the business? That would be the case if too many people asked to take a day off on the same day for religious reasons, leaving customers unattended.
- Does it compromise health, safety or security? In France and Canada, for instance, in construction worksites, everybody is requested to wear a hard hat for safety reasons, including Sikhs.
- Does it disadvantage other employees or customers? If an employee wants to pray during his break time in a quiet room, this usually doesn’t disadvantage anyone.
- Does it breach equality laws? That would be the case if an employee refused to obey a female manager for religious reasons, or if an employee refused to work with a gay co-worker for religious reasons.
- Does it infringe the freedom of belief of other employees? A friend of mine told me that in her team, in Brazil, evangelical employees would tune to the evangelical radio station every lunch break. She politely asked those wishing to listen to that radio station to wear head phones, out of respect for those who weren’t evangelical. She had a good reflex.
When you’re considering a religious practice, ask yourself the questions above. If your answer is “no” to these questions, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t accommodate an employee’s religious practice. To be on the safe side, always double check with your human resources team.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Let me know what you think about it in the comments below!
This is an excerpt from one of the chapters of my book “Succeed as an inclusive leader – Winning leadership habits in a diverse world”. You can download for free the sample chapter “Supporting work-life integration” by clicking here.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
THAIS COMPOINT is a multiple award-winning author, speaker, trainer and consultant specialising in inclusion and diversity for the past 18 years. She helps organisations build inclusive cultures and diverse teams so that they can increase engagement, productivity, innovation and sales. She is the CEO of Déclic International, a global consultancy that she created in 2016, after having led the inclusion and diversity strategies of three Fortune 500 companies. She’s also the author of the book “Succeed as an inclusive leader”, a TEDx speaker, the founder of the 1s Inclusive Leadership Global Conference, and a regular Huffington Post contributor.