Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


How to Help Employees Engage with Passion, Kent Johnson

19 Nov, 2018

Welcome to our interview with Kent Johnson. Kent is a Senior Corporate Advisor for the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF) and a management consultant on religious diversity at work. Kent works with RFBF to help companies adopt and practice best practices regarding religious diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Kent recently retired from his role as a Senior Counsel at Texas Instruments Incorporated and now serves as a consultant to multinational companies on topics related to religious accommodation and faith in the workplace. Kent helps companies see the appropriate role of religious expression and religious diversity at work, in order to strengthen corporate cultures of trust, mutual respect and organizational effectiveness.

I’m Bill Fox, Co-founder here at Exploring Forward-Thinking Workplaces. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Kent Johnson today. I shared my reflections on my interview with Kent at Are you religious?

Kent, welcome to this forum and thank you for contributing to the questions that are at the heart of Exploring Forward-Thinking Workplaces.

Q1: How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?

The starting point is to truly value our employees. Not to merely look for what they can do to help us achieve corporate profitability goals and short-term time-related goals, but to care about them as human beings.  My particular focus in this vein is on religious diversity, and here’s why:

A key hallmark of humanness is our capacity to embrace principles and beliefs that define us and that motivate and inform our daily lives.

If we really want to unleash diverse perspectives and energy, we must look for ways to help employees engage work in accordance with their deeply held beliefs. That crucial connection of passion with work is key to flourishing.

One of Webster’s definitions of “religion” is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” In that broad sense, nearly everyone is “religious.”  Everyone has some deeply held principles and beliefs. We must free people to connect their “religion” to their work.

There’s a wonderful story that comes from the movie Chariots of Fire. The protagonist is a very religious person who competes for an Olympic gold medal.  His religious sister asks why he spends so much time and effort running.  His reply is classic: , “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”

Think about that:  When I invent, I feel God’s pleasure! When I resolve conflicts or stand up against favoritism, I feel God’s pleasure!  When I help others succeed, I feel God’s pleasure! When I work hard – at great personal cost – to do what’s right though nobody’s looking, I feel God’s pleasure! Is there any employer who wouldn’t want this kind of motivation in their workplace?

Religion – defined as a set of deeply held personal principles and beliefs – is an appropriate focus for the workplace.

By definition, religion is personal. Our workplaces are becoming increasingly diverse. It’s counterproductive to try to press people into a predetermined mold. If we value people, we will try to understand the deeply held beliefs that define and motivate them.

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