By Brian Carwana
“Not belonging is a terrible feeling. It feels awkward and it hurts, as if you were wearing someone else’s shoes.” Phoebe Stone
In diversity, inclusion and equity discussions, people often say diversity is a fact and inclusion is a choice. Both statements are true, but it is the next part of those conversations which I think can be the most interesting. What is your goal? If you are working towards supporting diversity and inclusion in the organizations where you work and volunteer, or even in your own personal relationships, what does success look like? Acknowledging and understanding diversity is the first step towards creating communities which are truly equitable and where people feel as though they belong.
We know from a recent Canadian study that 39% of religious minorities feel uncomfortable speaking up at work, a number that is higher even than for race or gender. And a 2013 American study showed that one-third of respondents have experienced or witnessed incidents of religious bias at work. The same study revealed that half of non-Christians say that their employers are ignoring their religious needs.
Why does this matter?
We know, instinctively, that a sense of belonging creates situations which are healthier to learn, work and participate in. Studies reinforce this, showing that employees at companies who value religious literacy and pluralism have higher job satisfaction, are more empowered to fully contribute and are less likely to be looking for anew job. A recent Harvard Business Review article states that teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively.
And more clients are considering an organization’s diversity and inclusion practices when making business decisions.
What can your organizations do?
As Peter Drucker said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Before embarking on grand plans, assess what messages your organization might be sending regarding diversity and belonging.
Check your policies. Do you have clearly written policies that address religious diversity? Have you reviewed policies around dress code, religious holidays, and dietary issues to address cultural and religious bias? Do your HR policies and practices actively cultivate a diverse workforce at all levels of the organization?
Check your language. Language matters and is evolving quickly in this area. Where we used to talk about tolerance and cultural competency, we are now moving towards celebration and cultural humility as our collective understanding grows. Do you speak about accommodating minority religious holidays, or does your workplace actively embrace the idea of supporting your colleagues as they celebrate their faith?
Check your culture. It’s easy to send unintentional messages that might undermine your diversity and inclusion efforts. Policies need to be lived and breathed in the way management at all levels takes into account employees’ various religious holidays when planning meetings or events; by considering religious dietary needs when food and drink is involved; and ensuring your organization goes out of its way to recognize and celebrate non-dominant religious holidays. Do you foster positive and productive conversations around religious diversity and encourage religious literacy within your staff? Are your Board members, and leadership team aligned and informed, or could they use support developing religious literacy?
And what can you do personally?
Stay curious. Read widely. Ask questions. Make personal connections with those who have different religious backgrounds. Consider professional and personal development to enhance your own religious literacy. (Our Discovery Week happens every year and we have other training opportunities and speaking engagements). Whatever you do to educate yourself will give you new perspective, or as the saying goes, help you walk in someone else’s shoes.
That new perspective, and a commitment to your goals, will shift your community and your workplace.
This Insight is adapted from an earlier blog post on Religion