This is the third and final 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, I’m proposing nine inclusive leadership habits to create a faith -friendly work environment.
The leadership habits described below follow the Inclusive Leadership Propeller Model©. This model empowers business leaders and managers to navigate human differences smoothly, by consistently applying three skills: fairness, empathy, and proactivity. More information about it in my book “Succeed as an inclusive leader –Winning leadership habits in a diverse world.”
Fairness – Are you being fair?
1- Identify and challenge religious biases
We’re prone to biases especially regarding people who display visible signs of religious practice, such as a veil or a kippah. A good question to bring objectivity to this emotional topic is, “How does his or her religion impact his/her the ability to do the job?” It usually doesn’t.
2- Use a structured process to assess religious requests
You’ve seen in the previous article a set of six questions to use whenever a team member has a religious accommodation request: Does the request negatively affect the employee’s ability to do their job? Does it negatively impact the business? Does it compromise health, safety or security? Does it disadvantage other employees or customers? Does it breach equality laws? Does it infringe the freedom of belief of other employees? This set of questions will help you to stay away from personal considerations about people’s religious practices and treat everyone consistently.
Empathy – Are you treating others as they’d like to be treated?
3- Be open to accommodating employees’ religious practices
In a normal work day (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), Muslins who pray generally pray twice—at lunch time (1 p.m.) and late afternoon (4 p.m.). If people wish to use their break time to pray, be flexible. Praying doesn’t take longer than smoking. If possible, let people know that they can use a quiet room to pray. This could be an empty meeting room, for instance. You don’t have to do this. But why not doing it if a quiet place is available and allowing its use for prayer doesn’t disrupt the business or others? But make sure you don’t assign a room to a specific religion. Quiet rooms should be for people practicing all religions. In Sweden, I’ve seen a factory whose employee engagement and productivity rates went up once the site director created a prayer room. On Fridays, Jews might want to leave earlier for the Sabbath. If it’s feasible, for the business and the team, they might work extra time another day to make up for it. Talk with staff about fasting during Ramadan. Discuss if it’s helpful to hold meetings in the morning or early afternoon or to let staff finish earlier if a lunch break is not taken.
4- Consider holidays requests for religious reasons just like any other request
Which means accepting a request if it doesn’t negatively impact the business needs or other team members. Anticipating holidays as much as possible is good practice anyway, even if you only have atheists in your team.
5- Check religious festivals calendar when planning events and meetings
Don’t schedule events on important religious dates. You don’t have to take everything into account, but at least the main religious holy days such as The Holy week (Christians), Diwali (Hindus), Passover (Jews), Eid al-Fitr (Muslims). I’ve seen a company organising the annual leadership convention during Passover, which made Jewish directors feel excluded. I just came back from a training where a practicing catholic finance director complained about a major company event being organised during the Holy week.
6- Consider dietary restrictions
If you’re organising a meal, ask if people have any dietary restrictions (no need to refer to religion here). This is good practice anyway, as many people are veggies, vegans or have food allergies nowadays. If you can’t ask, provide a variety of food. You don’t have to provide Halal or Kosher, but if you do, make sure there are also options for those who don’t eat Halal and Kosher. If alcohol is served, make sure that non-alcoholic drinks are also available. When arranging work-related social gatherings, bear in mind that not all employees feel comfortable going to places where alcohol is served, such as pubs and bars. You can vary the places you go together as a team.
7- Be mindful of people’s modesty values
For religious reasons, some people might want to avoid eye or skin contact with people from the opposite sex, cover themselves (veil), or they may want to avoid certain types of clothing (too tight or too short). Be flexible, but at the same time, make sure that others in the team don’t feel discriminated against. For instance, if a man doesn’t want to shake hands with women, depending on your country culture, you might want to advise him to avoid shaking hands with everyone, to ensure equality.
Proactivity – Are you accelerating positive change?
8- Raise your team’s awareness about religious diversity
Share with your team members what you learned in this chapter. During important religious festivities, ask team members who are comfortable doing it to explain what it means to them and how they practice it. I had once an Indian colleague who explained to the team, during a routine team meeting, what Diwali meant to her and how she was celebrating it. Another Israeli team member shared with the team the recipes she cooked during Sabbath. Everybody appreciated it, and the colleagues who were sharing their traditions felt valued.
9- Use religious events to strengthen relations within the team
In some organisations, to avoid discrimination, people stopped celebrating everything, including Christmas. I don’t think this is a positive approach. Celebrate things together as a team every time it’s possible. I’ve seen Muslims bringing to the workplace pastries to celebrate with non-Muslim colleagues the end of Ramadan, and everybody was thrilled. I’ve seen leaders wishing Happy Diwali to their Hindu and Sikh team members, and they appreciated it. You could role model and encourage this type of behaviour.
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.This article was published on my blog and on Huffington Post. To get my articles and updates directly in your inbox, sign up for my newsletter.
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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.