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Religious Diversity in the Workplace: How to Be More Inclusive

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A recent survey by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding showed that as workplaces are growing in size, they're also growing in social diversity. With diversity comes a responsibility to keep offices in an inclusive mode, not exclusive — even when it comes to personal beliefs, like religion. If you're flummoxed by your workplace's lack of understanding of religious differences, there are ways to start bridging that divide right now.

A recent survey by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding showed that as workplaces are growing in size, they’re also growing in social diversity. With diversity comes a responsibility to keep offices in an inclusive mode, not exclusive — even when it comes to personal beliefs, like religion. If you’re flummoxed by your workplace’s lack of understanding of religious differences, there are ways to start bridging that divide right now.

welcome 

(Photo Credit: disparkys/Flickr)

Where to Start?

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Even if you were pretty scholarly in your youth, you might be a little daunted by a new co-worker’s religious beliefs if they’re unfamiliar to you. Can you name the differences between a Baha’i and a Buddhist? A Methodist and a Mormon? Do you know the Five Pillars of Islam? How about the four branches of Judaism? Don’t worry, there isn’t a test here (though the Pew Research Center has one you can take for fun).

The Center for Association Leadership published a good religious beliefs breakdown in 2001 to help HR professionals create an inclusive workplace. While these are still a little “top-level,” they’re an OK place to get a bit of basic information on a variety of religions you could encounter at work (or out in the real world).

How to Have  a Conversation

Calling out your co-workers and having them explain their religion like show-and-tell isn’t appropriate, but it’s OK to ask your boss or HR for some religious diversity training. Just don’t let it turn into an awkward scene from The Office.

If you’re the one whose beliefs will be new to many people in the office, be upfront with HR about holidays you might need off work, food accommodations, or religious practice space. If you’re running a business, get your HR team out in front of any issues with some religious diversity training or consider addressing any larger issues in a town hall or company newsletter if needed.

Christmas Is Coming. Can You Still Party?

Celebrations are awesome and can bring people together to party with pizza, potlucks, and local sports trivia. But when you don’t have an inclusive tone, you could stomp on one person’s beliefs in order to cater to another’s. Even holiday parties don’t have to be without symbols, but having head-to-toe Santa cutouts isn’t setting the right tone for a modern workplace.

  • If December parties are to be planned, cast the net wide for the party planning committee. The more opinions and ideas, the better.
  • Unlike a Liz Lemon party, a celebration shouldn’t be mandatory. Even with a simple potluck, you might have some co-workers who are fasting or have other dietary restrictions and can’t participate.

Welcoming someone into your work space should be about welcoming all of them, including their religious beliefs, even if they don’t match up with your own. Creating a safe space takes little more than a willingness to learn and celebrate our differences, as well as our shared dislike of Mondays, TPS reports, and that one printer that always breaks down when you need it.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a religiously diverse workplace? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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Jim Horn

Diversity can be good if managed well. If not managed well, it can be an expensive headache.

You have available, a guideline: RELIGION IN THE WORKPLACE which is available at amazon that can be very helpful in avoiding costly pitfalls.

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