Religious Diversity Month

The world is becoming more religiously diverse and faith continues to be a core identity for the vast majority of workers worldwide. 

Research shows that we will have 2.3 billion more religiously affiliated people by 2050, compared with just 0.1 billion more religiously unaffiliated people. Despite the common narrative, religion is not in decline.  However, progress towards religious inclusion in the workplace has been overwhelmingly left out of corporate diversity initiatives. 

Accommodating a religiously diverse workplace is not just a nice practice. It’s becoming an imperative must for business and company leaders. In today’s times, religion cannot be said to be a wall in dividing and separating people. It has to be the bridge to connect differences between people while connecting with the concept of diversity and inclusion. 

World Religion Day (January 16th, 2022): 

World Religion Day is celebrated every January on the third Sunday of the month. Its aim is to promote understanding and peace between all religions, encouraging people to learn about other faiths and their followers. 

It was initially started by followers of the Bahá’í faith, which says that all religions have common features, and that they should be respected equally. They believe there is one God who is known by different names in all religions. Followers of the Bahá’í faith believe that all humans are born equal, and that we all have the same rights regardless of our faith.

World Religion Day aims to promote the unity of religious peoples so that we can overcome historical differences. For centuries, different religions and faiths have fought each other, and ignored their common values. The purpose of World Religion Day is to work towards a peaceful understanding between faiths.

How can we as individuals celebrate World Religion Day?

• Take the time to learn about different faiths from around the world.

• Become aware of how many different religions there are, even the smaller, lesser-known ones.

• Speak to others about their religion and take the time to speak to people about yours.

Religion diversity in Hong Kong (a case study) : 

On September 1, 2021, a significant win for diversity took place in Hong Kong: Barristers were given the option to forego wigs for religious head coverings. The Race Discrimination Ordinance prohibits discrimination in sectors such as employment and education. While this definition of ‘race’  in the ordinance does not include religion, this was a positive step taken towards a more inclusive Hong Kong. 

While laws are effective as the push factors and focus on integration, they don’t necessarily bring about inclusivity. Inclusivity can be achieved by behavioural and attitudinal change. Workplaces are ideal reflections of society in terms of being models of mutual respect, appreciation of differences and shared values. 

Although we can certainly benefit from legal frameworks, direct company policies and practices are able to have a greater influence towards attitudinal changes and attaining inclusion much more effectively than any law in isolation.  An inclusive workplace doesn’t just have an immediate effect on the company employees, but all stakeholders including clients, markets, suppliers and the extended pipeline. 

Religious Inclusion in the Workplace: 

Religion is an important part of our individual and family life, especially outside of the workplace.  The drivers behind a greater corporate focus on religious inclusivity are increasingly clear and make good business sense for companies in a global marketplace. 

What can workplaces do to increase religious inclusion?

  • Have a wellness room:

Organisations can start by accommodating their employees’ need for prayer and observance of religious duties.  Ideally, this means having a wellness room for the purposes of prayer, contemplation and private reflection. Having a quiet room on-site also has the advantage of minimising time taken away from the workplace. 

It’s also important to be clear what the room is for and how it is made available, for example, can it be booked ahead? Are candles and motifs allowed? 

  • Consider offering your employees floating holidays:

When it comes to leave for religious holidays outside those covered by public holidays, leading practice employers allow staff to apply under annual leave, or other types of personal paid or unpaid leave. Some organisations have explored the idea of “floating cultural holidays” where an employee can take culturally significant days off by trading official public holidays for a “cultural day”.

  • Be mindful of language: 

Language matters, calling it a “quiet room”, “reflection room” or “wellness room” rather than a “prayer room” is recommended as this is more inclusive for non-religious people who may meditate or need a space for private reflection.

The same applies for using the term “floating holidays” instead of “religious holidays”.  Employees may not identify themselves with a particular religion but may still practice a form of meditation or take time off to go for meditation retreats, or identify themselves as agnostic, spiritual, secular or atheist. Several people may be non-practicing themselves, but still would appreciate time off as their family gets together to celebrate their religious holiday. 

  • Workplace celebrations: 

It is also important to encourage work socialisation that involves eating meals rather than just drinking alcohol. This is relevant for many people of various cultural and religious backgrounds as well as for those people who choose to not drink alcohol for health or other reasons.

  • Flexible working hours: 

Consider offering options for your employees to flex their hours, so your team members have the option to work a flexible schedule during special periods of religious observance. For example, during Ramadan, a holy month where many Muslims fast during daylight hours, colleagues may wish to start their workday early and leave early so they may be with their families to break their fast. 

Final words: 

Religions and beliefs have been leading and bringing people together with common values in various diverse cultures and civilizations.

Providing a work environment that respects each employee’s religious or non-religious traditions and observances is incredibly important, because our work is ultimately about taking it a step further by creating spaces where people who orient around religion differently can build relationships and work towards the common good.

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