Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Monthly Archives: January 2021

Foxhole Relationships at Work

30 Jan, 2021

Foxhole Relationships at Work: How Connection can arise out of Conflict*

by Kent Johnson, J.D., Senior Corporate Advisor, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection

Now we’re going to explore a different facet of Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB). We’ve extolled the benefits of freeing individuals to “bring their whole selves to work,” the desirability of making people feel welcomed and valued for who they are, and the merits of transparency and deeper interpersonal knowledge. It all sounds warm and friendly, friction-free. Now we’ll turn our attention to conflict, and not just the appearance of conflict that’s readily resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Conflict is often seen as a force for division. It can drive people who are “alike” to shift blame onto those who are “different.” It’s been known to promote an ethos of “every man for himself.” But today, I’d like to begin to probe how, through times of conflict and trouble in diverse workforces, FoRB is helping build civility, authenticity and connection among those who are different.

It’s no secret that conflict and pressure can drive extraordinary accomplishments. Especially in diverse countries like the US, conflict throws diverse people together in proverbial foxholes, where necessity compels cooperation and task-related loyalty. Military conflict, in particular, ironically drives some of civilization’s greatest technological progress. Also ironically, war can advance cultural tolerance among colleagues. For instance, WW 2 occasioned many positive interracial and interfaith friendships among the troops that didn’t end on VJ Day. Soldiers who had absolutely nothing in common were thrust together in literal or figurative foxholes, in crisis. Many soldiers came to learn each others’ core identities and beliefs — different as they were from their own — and yet emerged from those foxholes as fast, lifelong friends.

Luke Ryan is a case in point. While serving in Afghanistan in 2013, he and his fellow Army Rangers were ambushed. Four were killed. In an interview recently published on by War and Life: Discussions with Veterans (see YouTube), Luke spoke of the awfulness of combat. And yet he missed knowing that he had to be completely trustworthy, and knowing that he could trust the others. “When you’re in a life or death situation, then every moment is charged with purpose,” he says. “You’re there for the mission and the people you’re with. The people are what you care about more.”

Don’t misunderstand: I am no advocate of war! I’m simply posing the question: What might we learn from collegiality and trust among diverse soldiers that would help us advance civility in our diverse workplaces? How are foxhole relationships among diverse colleagues forged at work? How do people really come to know about and begin to care for one another?

How do you feel when you know that someone at work trusts you and is depending on you? How do you feel when you know that your coworker would selflessly help you, even at considerable personal cost? Do the “foxhole situations” at work leave you feeling valued? Do they help you learn to value your coworkers?

Do the conflicts and stresses of everyday work energize you? Do they help you come to grips with what you truly believe: the core principles, values and beliefs that define who you really are? Do they move you to a deeper resolve to act authentically and consistently with coworkers, in accordance with those beliefs?

My point is simple: The conflict and friction that’s inevitable at work presents opportunities to build relationships with our coworkers. The world’s current divisiveness and the isolation we’ve experienced due to the pandemic heighten the need for deeper, more trusting personal connections. Workplaces are crucibles where civility can flourish, provided we don’t quash communication about what people consider their core identity.

This is not just about your workplace. Over time, the positive byproducts of civility among diverse people in workplaces can spread through the entire world, with lasting positive effect long after particular battles have ended.

We’ll probe this theme more in coming weeks, as we continue to unpack the various ways that FoRB spurs authenticity, trust and friendship in the workplace. Your thoughts are welcome!

Join the discussion on LinkedIn or Facebook.

And join us at the Feb. 9-11 Faith@Work conference where this and many other important topics will be discussed!

*Special thanks to Preston Jones, Ph.D., professor of history, for his inputs on relationships in warfare.

A benefit of workplace religious inclusion

27 Jan, 2021

The Intel Corporation is one of the most religiously inclusive companies in America, according to the 2020 Corporate Religious Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Index.

This is due in no small part to the significant investment made by the company to incorporate religious diversity into their overall diversity and inclusion framework. The organization’s commitment to religious inclusivity is seen in their willingness to incorporate new employee resource groups (ERGs). For example, Intel Corporation’s inclusion of a resource group dedicated to Bahá’í believers is notable. Across the entire Fortune 200 companies, no other company provides a dedicated community for practitioners of the Bahá’í faith, which globally has 8.5 million followers according to the World Religion Database.

Religious inclusivity has many benefits. One in particular stands out to Hadi Sharifi, the head of Intel’s Muslim ERG: It makes the company feel like his home and he feels like his coworkers are family, regardless of their faith.

Hear his words below. And join us Feb. 9-11 at the national Faith@Work conference for the whole Intel panel and more!

Hadi Sharifi – What Impact Does Intel’s Faith ERGs Have? from Religious Freedom & Business Fnd on Vimeo.

Looking forward to Faith@Work 2021!

27 Jan, 2021

The 2021 national Faith@Work ERG Conference is less than two weeks away! You are in store for inspiring insights and authentic connections with the world’s foremost thinkers and leaders on the interconnections between business and our hearts, minds and spirits.

We’ll hear directly from those who have built and are building faith-and-belief employee resource groups (ERGs) in some of America’s most successful companies, including: Google, American Airlines, Intel, American Express and PayPal.

We’ll also hear from people from companies that have launched new interfaith ERGs during the pandemic, such as Equinix, and others that are just beginning the process, as is SAP.

But — as we’ll learn from Accenture — religious inclusion in the workplace is more than just setting up an ERG: it requires a shift towards an accommodation mindset. In companies like Tyson Foods and American Airlines, that includes having workplace chaplains.

Former US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook, brings her Global Black Women’s Chamber of Commerce network to discuss how faith is integral, authentic and energized within the African American business community. Spoiler alert: Get ready to dance!

From Sue Warnke of Salesforce, Dean Bridgette Madrian of the BYU Marriott School of Business and Dean Andrew Abela of the Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America, we’ll hear how the business leaders of tomorrow expect to enter workplaces that welcome their faiths and beliefs.

Drilling down on the conference’s theme of Authenticity and Connection, Kent Johnson will moderate several panels ranging from “Today’s Need for Greater Empathy and Thicker Skin” to how “Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists are an Important Focus for Diversity & Inclusion.”

The keynotes are must-hear:

Tomas Flier, Google’s global diversity and inclusion lead, will release the premier of a fantastic video introducing Google’s Inter Belief Network to the world.
Sharon Fast Gustafson, EEOC’s General Counsel, “will deliver a keynote presentation on why religious nondiscrimination is good for business” and “will explain legal obligations relating to religious nondiscrimination and accommodation in the workplace.”
Juliet Funt, CEO of WhiteSpace at Work (brought to us thanks to the Global Leadership Network), will inspire with practical advice on banishing the thieves of productivity and recovering time to be creative.
Margaret Grun Kibben, chaplain of the US House of Representatives and retired chief of chaplains for the US Navy and Marine Corp, discusses with Chaplain Karen Diefendorf (Tyson Foods) and Fr. Greg McBrayer (American Airlines) how workplaces can build civility despite the challenges of a pandemic and social and political unrest.

There is also a fascinating series of panels on faith, ethics and technology, including remarks by Frank Torres, Director of Public Policy in Microsoft’s Office of Responsible AI, part of the company’s Technology and Corporate Responsibility group.

There will be plenty of live interaction as well as a special religious freedom & business short Film Festival, PLUS some humorous spots along the way … but that part is a secret. 🙂

Invite others to join you – registration is open!

“THOSE people are awful! But …”

23 Jan, 2021

by Kent Johnson, J.D., Senior Corporate Advisor, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection – Join Kent’s conversation on Facebook or LinkedIn.

“THOSE people are awful!” [But my coworker is one, and she seems to be a pretty good person…]

Have you ever heard that kind of mixed sentiment?

Personal familiarity often overcomes categorical bias. In the workplace, when diverse employees engage meaningfully over time with one another, they can get a more nuanced view of their colleagues’ character as it relates to their work. Turns out, “those people” aren’t so bad (at least not all of them) …

My point is that our diverse workplaces provide fertile ground for bridge-building relationships to flourish. As we spend hours at work co-laboring to achieve shared goals, we begin to witness how one of “those” people navigates the daily challenges of work. Even in the current virtual work mode, we get signals of our coworkers’ character from thousands of incidents like these:

– A manager openly commends someone for correcting her.
– A salesperson refuses to take an unethical shortcut which could’ve won him a big sale.
– A coworker ascribes credit to others where it’s due, though the coworker could’ve easily kept all the credit for himself.
– Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg befriended Justice Antonin Scalia.

We draw character inferences – good and bad – from brief glances like those. Our inferences may be wildly inaccurate, because, frankly, most of the time we have no idea what really makes our coworkers “tick,” and our unconscious biases can distort our perceptions of what we see. We’re told about the importance of trust and teamwork; but we’re left in the dark about our colleagues’ hearts and minds.

WHY do our coworkers do what they do at work? What are the work-related core beliefs and principles that they aspire to follow? It seems inappropriate to ask. Often, it feels like avenues for deeper connection are blocked. Our corporate culture is too fearful to let us truly connect.Management is worried that if we really knew one another’s core motivations, we’d hate one another. Seems the presumption is that we can only “tolerate” each other from a distance; we can only work civilly together so long as we remain ignorant of our coworker’s core identity. (Heaven forbid we learn they’re one of “them!”). We’re worried that opening the “pandora’s box” of religion and belief and core defining principles would cause chaos.

This kind of fear accelerates the growing frenzy of rancor and distrust. We can do better.

Before I go further with this post, I want to make something crystal clear: We’re not advocating a corporate culture that puts employees on the spot and compels deep self-disclosure. That kind of compulsion wrongfully invades people’s privacy and can create an oppressive environment. Besides, it’s wildly counterproductive. Forced disclosure of core beliefs and values is, almost inevitably, inauthentic. Everyone must be free to opt out with no negative implications at all.

That said, we at the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation have seen how a purposeful championing of freedom of religion and belief in companies can enable voluntary, authentic connection among those who want it. And where this happens, it’s powerfully freeing. And affirming. And “catching.” Many (not all) of our coworkers are aching to tell us about their core beliefs and principles; but they’re waiting for permission to open that box. When they see a few being transparent and vulnerable, they begin to see that it’s ok for them to be transparent and vulnerable too; and to listen to others. It’s even ok for “bosses” to speak from their heart (what a thought)!For many, that’s liberating.

What’s the alternative? Shall we perpetuate the current predominant culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” about core beliefs and values that pertain to our everyday work?

Some readers are probably thinking it’s way too touchy and hard to promote this kind of deep authenticity in the workplace. We can report that it’s not.This is doable. Companies that have already started down this road can help. The Religious Freedom and Business Foundation can help. So can a growing number of faith-at-work organizations, and multi-faith chaplains, and HR professionals.

There’s great cause for optimism here. Increasingly, corporate leaders, business school faculty members, social psychologists and HR consultants are extolling the benefits of full personal engagement, transparency and authenticity in the workplace. The time is ripe to take the next step toward truly valuing our employees for who they are, by championing their freedom of religion and belief. We can free workers to have deeper one-to-one connections in the workplace – connections across diverse cultures. Over time, those one-on-one relationships, built on personal knowledge and authentic connection, step by step, can help dissolve the barriers of distrust and suspicion that are strangling society today.

It’s happening in more and more companies. There’s no need to fear. Climb aboard. And join the conversation on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Join us as we overcome unconscious bias at the second annual National Faith@Worth ERG Conference, held virtually Feb. 9th-11th, 2021. Register today!

As Biden takes oath, Corporate America models religious inclusion

20 Jan, 2021

Corporate America offers a compelling model of religious inclusion as the Biden-Harris administration emphasizes diversity

by Brian J. Grim

Corporate America offers a compelling model of religious inclusion as the incoming Biden-Harris administration emphasizes diversity, including “building a diplomatic corps that fully represents America in all its talent and diversity.”

For the World Economic Forum’s 2020 annual meeting in Davos, I contributed a piece titled “Diversity is top of the corporate agenda. Why doesn’t that include faith?” In it, I summarized our data showing that the majority of Fortune 100 companies fail to mention faith or religion as part of diversity efforts.

Indeed, faith and core beliefs are taboo topics in many workplaces. But that is changing. In the wake of the pioneering religious diversity work of companies like American AirlinesAmerican ExpressTexas InstrumentsIntel, Target and Tyson Foods, more leading companies are realizing that people’s diverse personal faiths and beliefs give meaning and purpose to their work. They are also realizing that including religion as part of their other diversity and inclusion efforts not only strengthens overall inclusion, but it is also good for the bottom line.

This can bee seen in this week’s blog from Salesforce’s 360 blog by Miranda Dafoe, 4 Ways To Ensure Faith Inclusion in the Workplace. She notes that with 77% of the U.S. population identifying as religious, an inclusive workplace makes space for employees of varying faiths to feel welcome.

Increasingly, workplace leaders are realizing that their most powerfully impactful “products” are not limited to the products they make or the services they provide. They’re seeing that through their day-to-day operations, they can also export a culture of respect, compassion and freedom – a different kind of “product” that both enriches the entire world and increases brand warmth.

The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s Corporate Religious Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (REDI) Index spotlights a diverse spectrum of companies where people are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work — including their faith. It’s not just confined to the early pioneers. It is also happening in companies like Google, Apple, SalesforceAccenturePayPal, and Walmart where faith-oriented employee resource groups (ERGs) are proliferating.

Workplace chaplains are another visible symbol of this movement, not just in workplaces such as the military, hospitals, athletics, the US Senate, but also in Fortune 100 companies, with Tyson Foods leading the way.

What is at the root of this burgeoning movement?

The short answer is that businesses are recognizing that for many people, trying to separate their faith from them while at work is as difficult as expecting a person to separate themselves from their race or gender or age. Their faith is as baked into their personhood as these other characteristics, and for some people, even more so. As Julia Oltmanns of Zurich America puts it:

“Over the years, the companies I had worked for had recognized my identity as a woman, but my identity in my faith is more important to me than my gender. Once the organization recognized that importance and supported my expression of my faith at work, I felt encouraged to be an integrated, aligned, values-driven leader in the company, allowing me to reach my full potential.”

Join us Feb. 9-11 for the (virtual) 2nd annual national Faith@Work conference to learn more – register today!

4 Ways To Ensure Faith Inclusion in the Workplace (Miranda Dafoe)

20 Jan, 2021

With 77% of the U.S. population identifying as religious, an inclusive workplace makes space for employees of varying faiths to feel welcome.

Miranda Dafoe offers 4 ways you can create a faith inclusive workplace:
1. Create an interfaith employee resource group (ERG).
2. Create a culture of trust and inclusion.
3. Ensure faith inclusion at events.
4. Take action on instances of cultural appropriation or religious bias.

Read full blog.

Miranda is an associate success guide on the Tableau CRM team at Salesforce, helping customers learn the platform and solve their business challenges. She also serves on the employee resource group’s Faithforce Global Communications team.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’S Legacy

16 Jan, 2021

As people around the world reflect on the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., RFBF’s Kent Johnson reminds us that hate is easy, but love takes courage. We will be exploring the courageous way at our upcoming virtual conference, Feb. 9th-11th. In the meantime, join the discussion on LinkedIn or Facebook of Kent’s provocative blogGreater Sensitivity and Thicker Skin. If you haven’t yet registered for the conference, the early bird discount (EB2020) ends Jan. 21!

For those in corporations and organizations looking for information and content to inspire you on MKL Day, Intel’s employees gather annually to read of MLK’s speeches by coordinated by Intel Corporation’s employee resource groups (ERGs)! The short introduction in the video below by Intel’s Craig Carter, who leads the company’s Christian ERG, provides fascinating context and background on what is arguably one of MLK’s greatest speeches.

Greater Sensitivity and Thicker Skin

16 Jan, 2021
by Kent Johnson, J.D., Senior Corporate Advisor, Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection

We’re increasingly bombarded from all sides with shouts of alarm. Urgent calls to action rally people who agree, and ascribe evil intent to those who don’t. If we’re not offended at the evil intent driving the “other side,” then – it’s presumed – we must be ignorant or stupid … or, worse, we don’t really care.

If we talk about a need for “thicker skin,” are we promoting an insult culture and giving a “pass” to those who say hateful, inaccurate things about us? If we talk about a need for “greater sensitivity,” are we agreeing with others who’ve labelled us mean-spirited bigots?

The loudest voices shout that, if we talk about “greater sensitivity and thicker skin,” we’re naively playing into the hands of the evil conspirators; that we’re adding credence to their groundless cause. Are they right?

The answer is no. But it’s not quite that simple.

At the upcoming Faith@Work ERG Conference (Feb. 9th-11th) we’ll step boldly into this morass. The speakers are people on the “left” and on the “right,” representing a hugely diverse range of faiths, beliefs and ideologies. It’s a hopeful conference where we’ll try to highlight common ground.

Leaning against the tide of these divisive times, the diverse organizers of this conference are appealing to a higher “calling.” It’s a calling to humble self-reflection, in light of some core relational values that people of faith everywhere – and agnostics and atheists – say they embrace. Principles like those I’ve listed before:

These kinds of principles, though widely voiced, are very hard to live by. Their implications drive self-critique and sober reflection on how people on the “other side” are feeling – and why. They require that we listen deeply to people with whom we have major differences; and that we stop jumping to conclusions about their motives.

In the worst case, perhaps a dialogue on these kinds of principles will shed light on how fundamentally deep the divide has become. We’re more hopeful than that.

To be sure, the workplace focus of this conference is just a start. But we’ve seen that diverse workplaces can be fruitful grounds for deeper connection and harmony, if they’re approached wisely. We start by walking with people in our everyday circles, one to one, navigating the fairness and operational issues relevant to our work tasks. In doing so, we connect on a deeper level, to build trust and respect across ideological boundaries. We won’t necessarily solve the national policy issues in this way, but over time, the entire world is enriched by the relationships we forge at work as we build greater sensitivity and thicker skin.

To those who say seeking common ground is fruitless, I ask: What’s the alternative? Are we to pretend the fissures in our society aren’t growing? Shall we dig our bunkers deeper, and engage on a meaningful level only with those whose specific policy goals align with ours? Is that a recipe for peace and reconciliation?

There’s a better way. I hope many of you will weigh in on this, and join us for the virtual conference.

Comment on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Invitation: If you’re ready to advance civility and connection in the workplace, join us each week for Authenticity & Connection, a concise and thought-provoking reflection by Kent Johnson and guests; and help shape this important dialogue by weighing in via LinkedIn or Facebook.

Connecting Faith-Oriented Tech Professionals and Corporate Ethics Offices

14 Jan, 2021

Frank Torres, Director of Public Policy in Microsoft’s Office of Responsible AI

2021 Faith@Work ERG Conference to feature Panels and a Workshop on Connecting Faith Values and Corporate Ethics around AI

Members of Faith ERGs are among corporate employees most likely to desire strong business ethics and good outcomes for society in their work.  AI and Faith, a Seattle-based nonprofit, has organized a special Ethics Track in Day 3 of the 2nd National Faith@Work ERG Conference on February 11 from 11-2 EST to discuss how people of faith can engage their employer’s business ethics safely and effectively, using as an example ethical issues about artificial intelligence.

The rapid deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) across American businesses is inspiring a  growing discussion of ethical practices to manage AI’s risks and benefits. Corporations and universities across the world are creating offices and institutes specifically to address this.

Many of these AI-driven ethical issues grow out of questions which the world’s faiths have grappled with for millennia, such as fairness and equality, freedom of choice, the source of human rights and liberties, and the purpose of work.  But most corporate ethics offices and academic programs have no direct connection to faith perspectives on AI ethics, even as they struggle for influence themselves. Employees who are people of faith in companies deploying AI products have a lot to add to this ethics debate if they can do so safely and effectively.

The Ethics Track will help employees of companies using AI-powered technologies explore how to integrate their faith values with ethical issues in their work in three 30-minute panels, a Q&A Response Session, and a one-hour workshop.   The panels and Q&A will discuss what’s faith got to do with AI, how to constructively engage your company’s ethics process, and how to work cross faith on these issues.  The workshop will show how to move from a faith belief to a practical ethical position on real-world problems.  Faculty include such key thinkers as:

  • Frank C. Torres, a senior Microsoft ethics and policy leader;
  • – Brian Green, Director of Tech Ethics at Silicon Valley’s oldest ethics institution;
  • Rear Admiral (ret) Margaret Kibben, Chaplain of the US House of Representatives;
  • – Yaqub Chaudhary, a UK physicist and leading Islamic scholar and writer on AI ethics;
  • – Patricia Shaw, a leading Christian UK attorney in AI ethics policy efforts; and
  • – Michael Quinn, computer scientist and author of Ethics for the Information Age.

AI and Faith has over 60 sophisticated AI professionals, ethicists, theologians and philosophers in five countries working cross faith to produce highly relevant faith perspectives on AI ethics.

Register at 2nd National Faith@Work ERG Conference ( (hurry! early bird rate expires Jan 21).

Contact:  Board Chair David Brenner, for more information.

AI and Faith Website: AIandfaith.orgERG conference article in January Newsletter

Congressional & Corporate Chaplains: First Responders to America’s Crises

13 Jan, 2021

As the US continues to recover from a pandemic and violence in the Capitol itself, there are thousands of workplace chaplains ministering to people amidst the troubles. Join us to hear from three frontline leaders at the 2nd annual National Faith@Work ERG Conference, Feb. 9-11, 2021 (virtual):

Rear Adm. Margaret Grun Kibben, chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives
Fr. Greg McBrayer, chief flight controller and chaplain at American Airlines
Chaplain Karen Diefendorf, director of chaplain services at Tyson Foods (all pictured above)

On Jan. 6, as a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol and brought an abrupt halt to the work of lawmakers, Chaplain Kibben was a calm in the midst of deadly chaos.

Kibben previously served as the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’ chief chaplain before being selected by a bi-partisan committee to become the first female chaplain to serve the House. During the siege, she did what she does best: offer comfort to those in crisis.

“There were people of varying abilities, health conditions and emotional states,” she said to RNS. “My concern was to keep an eye on who was frightened, who was struggling, so that I could come alongside them — and there were a few under duress.”

Meanwhile, across the country, Fr. Greg McBrayer, chief flight controller and chaplain for American Airlines, comforted airline staff and passengers as the pandemic continued to claim lives.

“From an Airline Chaplain’s perspective, this has been like 9 months of 911 on steroids,” said Fr. Greg.

“As an essential spiritual first responder, it has most compared with end-of-life grief ministry day in and day out. Airline colleagues and co-workers are grieving the loss of jobs, loss of loved ones, co-workers, and certainly the loss of human connection and civility,” he said.

At the same time, food production facilities across America can’t pause. On the front lines in companies like Tyson Foods, chaplains are on the production floor to meet the needs of staff who have worked through the pandemic to keep the rest of us fed.

“One of the things that strikes me first off, is that our Tyson chaplains have faced the same fears and risks that all of our essential workforce has faced,” said Karen Diefendorf, director of chaplain services at Tyson Foods.

“They have demonstrated courage and lived their faith while walking with our Team Members to encourage them, address concerns, be a liaison with plant leaders and helped all of them to be respectful to each other,” she said. “Ministry of Presence has never mattered more.”

Join us Feb. 9-11 to meet these extraordinarily heroic leaders, brining authenticity and connections through the compassionate care of workplace chaplaincy.