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The Devil is in the Details

When it comes to religious literacy, there can be a lot to think about. And while we may be committed to creating welcoming places centered on inclusion, a lack of important information can really trip us up.

Recently a friend shared a story about a senior vice president at a large organization who was expected to attend an important dinner meeting with the executive team. The problem was that this Senior VP is Hindu and the meeting was scheduled for the main night for celebrating Diwali, Hindus’ most important festival. Given the circumstances, this senior VP felt uncomfortable voicing his concerns to the organizer so, he attended the meeting, arriving home too late to celebrate Diwali with his family. He said he felt sick about his decision for weeks, that he had let down his family, all of which surely impacted his feelings about his workplace.

His organization is not alone in not checking the calendar for conflicts. This year, Ontario’s municipal elections conflicted with Divali’s main celebratory night. And the schedule for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test encompassed Ramadan. Some Muslim students may have had to write the test (which is required for graduation) while also observing the month-long fast.

These stories surfaced for us at about the same time that a major grocery chain issued a flyer advertising products to purchase during Ramadan. Unfortunately, the flyer’s Ramadan page also featured pork, which is a food forbidden by the Quran, and an interpretation of the store’s logo as the Muslim crescent moon with a star. The intention here to be inclusive and appealing to a particular customer group not only missed the mark, it potentially offended or discouraged some Muslims.

Religious literacy training builds a solid foundation of knowledge and helps sensitize us to the perspectives and needs of others. If your organization is striving to be a welcoming workplace, we recommend investing in training for your team. But there are also simple things organizations can do today to help avoid missteps:

Be proactive.

Normalize talking about religious inclusion with your team and leadership, and make it an easy conversation for colleagues to have. Don’t wait for religious minorities to speak up about holiday conflicts or policies that are not inclusive, because many won’t. A Canadian study revealed that 39% of religious minorities are reluctant to speak up at work, and as the Diwali meeting example illustrates, that’s not just limited to staff who don’t feel they have workplace clout.

Develop an inclusive calendar for your organization – and use it.

Create a habit of checking the calendar before scheduling important meetings, product launches, and events. Build awareness by adding reminders about the inclusive calendar to all-staff emails, internal newsletters and team meetings. Highlight upcoming religious observances to create a corporate culture which affirms that holidays and religious identities matter. And for long-term planning, remember that many religious holidays shift dates on the Gregorian calendar.

Be clear in your external communications.

Create an inclusive guidebook and make it part of your marketing, communications and branding kits. Include appropriate terms and correct spelling for various holidays as well as guidance for incorporating respectful and inclusive language or images. Make a point to educate your marketing and communications team on religious holidays and the nuances of religious observances.

Err on the side of caution.

Religious symbols are sacred. Our best advice is not to adapt them as a design element – at all.

Create a culture of learning.

When we know better, we can do better. But sometimes we need a little help. Encounter has a growing repository of resources which are free to download from You are welcome to share them internally with your team.

Creating a welcoming workplace and inclusive brand are excellent aspirations, but to be successful, these goals need to be supported with knowledge, training and resources or the best intentions can go astray. It’s worth the extra effort when paying attention to the details can help us all feel seen. A Jewish friend of ours says “the little things are the big things.”

This content was originally shared on the CCDI Consulting blog.


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