According surveys by the public relations firm Global Strategy Group, Americans in recent years are embracing the notion that the private business sector has a role in shaping the political debate and addressing social issues. In their most recent survey, 78% of Americans said that “corporations should take action to address important issues facing society,” up from 72% in 2013.
The study finds that Americans are more inclined to think that it’s more “appropriate” for companies to take stands on economic issues such as the minimum wage, pay equality, and parental leave. Nevertheless, a majority also think it is suitable for companies to weigh in on social and political issues ranging from LGBT equality to Obamacare to race relations.
This offers an opportunity for greater protections for religious freedom in the workplace. Freedom of Religion or Belief is an internationally recognized human right. Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
This is counterproductive because the most successful businesses encourage an environment in which employees can bring their “full self” to work. Employees need to feel comfortable being who they are in the workplace, including being true to their core identity and beliefs. That includes recognizing and respecting an employee’s religion and its practice.
In today’s increasingly more competitive business environment, companies will need to draw upon the talent and experience of every employee. They can’t afford to leave anyone out. If they exclude or alienate someone for reasons having nothing to do with a person’s ability to do the job, they might also be excluding the next great business solution or the next great product idea. The very thing a company might need for its success. At the very least, they’ll be missing out on lots of really great talent.
And as companies become increasingly more global, they’ll need employees who reflect the increasing diversity of their customers. They’ll need employees who can relate to the daily experience of customers and who can see the customer point of view. For potentially billions of customers, religious belief and practice are a part of daily life. Having employees who understand that will not only help companies avoid costly missteps, it will also help companies develop products and services better tailed to customer needs. That’s an essential part of being competitive.