FirstFive_03.03.21

Faith and Belief Accommodation at Work: More Than the Right Thing to Do

This column expresses the views of Paul Lambert, Freedom Forum fellow for religious freedom.

Dallas-based Texas Instruments (TI) offers its 30,000 employees career and support groups for Christians, Muslims and Jews, time-off flexibility around religious holidays and serenity rooms for prayers or worship.

Software company Salesforce has a career and support group focused on religion, Faithforce, that has been the company’s fastest growing employee group since it was introduced in 2017.

Alphabet/Google’s Inter Belief Network and American Airlines’ various faith-focused employee resource groups earned them high rankings this year on the list of Fortune 200 companies with faith- and belief-friendly corporate workplaces.

These and other major companies say that respecting religious freedom at work not only is the right thing to do but also can lead to happier, more productive employees and a better bottom line.

TI employee Jason Rosen, speaking of his faith-friendly workplace, said, “When I’m bringing my whole self to work, that makes me want to give my all to Texas Instruments. …You’ve enabled me to be who I am and I want to use that whole self and give it back to you.’”

Addressing faith and belief at work starts with recognizing the reality of faith and belief among employees. The Religious Freedom Center offers training to help managers and workers develop knowledge and skills in environments of accommodation and action to make it happen.

The diversifying world economy supports the trend toward accommodating faith at work. Markets are expanding globally, creating a more diverse and more religious customer base. All but one of the 10 fastest-growing economies each year since 2017 have been countries with big religious majority populations. This means the great majority of potential customers in emerging markets have a deeply held religious worldview.

Global data tracking religious affiliation shows a similar trend toward religiosity. The Pew Research Center calculates that religious affiliation in the world will grow to 84 percent by 2050. This has major impacts on market growth in a global economy. Any company that hopes to grow its global footprint must better understand and accommodate global customers, including their religious and cultural worldviews.

But it isn’t just a macro issue. At Intel, for example, faith-based employee resource groups have had a positive impact on employee recruitment and retention and on revenue, said Craig Carter, an Intel manager and controller, at the 2020 [email protected] Conference.

In Silicon Valley, 57 percent of the tech workforce is foreign born, according to a recent study by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project. With national diversity comes religious diversity, with many workers coming from religious-majority countries, such as India and Iran.

Companies seeking to attract and keep this talent must have policies in place that accommodate and protect religious diversity and belief. I’d also note: A workplace that embraces diversity also welcomes atheists, agnostics and those of no faith.

Employees who feel accommodated in their religious beliefs at work and see others accommodated as well are better employees, says TI software engineer Zonera Javed, who moved to the U.S. as a child.

“For many people of faith, our religions aren’t something we can toggle on or off depending on where we are during the day. And that shouldn’t be the case or the expectation,” Javed said, speaking at a conference last fall about her workplace experiences as a Muslim. “We spend a lot of time at work and by having an environment that allows us to truly feel at home, our work thrives and our companies perform better.”

Sadly, U.S. businesses have a long way to go in creating faith-welcoming workplaces. Thirty-six percent of American workers — 50 million people — say they have experienced or witnessed hiring discrimination or verbal abuse based on religion and other forms of religious disparagement or discrimination, according to a 2014 survey by the Tannenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.

In another report, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that workplace religious discrimination complaints were nearly twice as high as complaints about sexual orientation in 2018.

For many companies, accommodating employees’ faith and belief at work may sound scary and hard. In my role with the Freedom Forum’s Religious Freedom Center, I’ve worked on these topics with some of the companies I’ve mentioned and I don’t see it that way. It’s a small investment that pays immeasurable dividends.

It’s time for all employers to recognize the power of faith and belief accommodation and empowerment. It’s not only a fundamental right and the right thing to do, it’s also good for business.

Paul Lambert is a Freedom Forum fellow for religious freedom. 

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