Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Monthly Archives: May 2021

“I WAS WRONG.” How often do you hear that phrase in your workplace? Probably rarely.

29 May, 2021

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

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection

In these polarized times, admitting error is often seen as a sign of weakness. Many company cultures ascribe inordinate value to “being right.” Any correction is seen as a personal insult. We worry that if our mistakes were revealed, our reputation would be trashed. So, when challenged, we feel we must “double down.” Instead of humbly rethinking our conclusions in light of new information, we equivocate, interpret and concoct ways to justify them; and launch attacks on our “accuser.” But it’s worse than that. As Joseph Hallinan has noted, this defensive tendency gives rise to self-deception. We blind ourselves to our mistakes. We’re “all pretty sure we are way above average.”

Left unchallenged, this defensive mindset reinforces a corporate culture of blame-shifting, divisiveness, distrust, fear, shame, disloyalty and deception.

A company’s culture around “being wrong” really matters. Here’s a specific example. Suppose a customer expresses worry that there might be a defect in your product. This raises complex questions. The issue might arise from the way that customer uses the product. Testing may be off. Your prioritization of this question – and your internal communications and responses to this customer – will be shaped by your company culture around “being wrong.” Will you dodge the question? Will you disclose requested information? Will you dismiss this as an unwarranted “fishing expedition?”

Even if it turns out in the end that you were “right,” and there was no defect, your credibility will be strained if you seemed evasive. In some cases, even the appearance of a cover-up may lead to threats of litigation. When other customers hear of it, they may take their business elsewhere. Point is, you can be right … and “dead right.” And if you’re “wrong” and it turns out that the product presents serious risk to customers or users, the apparent cover-up might threaten your company’s very existence.

Step back and think how it feels to work for a company with a “no mistakes” culture. It’s stifling. Emotionally draining. Soul-sapping.

So, what can be done to reign in a toxic “no mistakes” culture? I submit that a concerted encouragement of grassroots discussion of employees’ faith and belief can help a lot.

Much has been written about the desirability of humility in the C-Suite. We read that when leaders invite contrary views, and recognize their error, and embrace change that they didn’t devise, “regular workers” feel validated and valued, and better decisions are made. Trust, authenticity and collegiality can then grow deep in the organization.

Far less has been written about how a “no mistakes” culture can be cured by encouraging people at the grassroots to speak openly about their core values and beliefs. My point is that humility in the C-Suite is helpful, but it’s not enough. I’ve blogged before about the profound influence that “regular workers” can have on corporate culture. A company’s culture is shaped through relationships up, down and across the reporting chain, person to person; not simply by executive pronouncements.

Challenges and questions that confront your employees regularly bring their character into sharp relief. In her book Being Wrong; Adventures in the Margins of Error, Kathryn Schulz says, “However disorienting, difficult, or humbling our mistakes might be, it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.” In a related vein, Jasmine Wu, associate professor of management at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University has observed that, “[When] we’ve put honesty over our own self, it’s a very courageous action.” (See also Abby Perry’s incisive piece “The Quiet Art of Being Wrong” in Issue 5 of the print journal Common Good).

It’s people’s core values and beliefs – often their faith – that informs how they react to being wrong. Their values and beliefs spur them on to pursue truth above personal accolades. Whether we’re “religious” people or non-theists, open discussion of our core beliefs and those of our coworkers reminds us both of our fallibility, and of our calling to live and work in a manner consistent with the values we profess.

Over 39 years of corporate legal practice, I’ve witnessed the positive impact of such open discussion of core beliefs and values, among diverse employees. We in the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation hear of positive cultural transformation occurring at scores of companies through such openness. It’s part of the reason we launched this blog series on “Authenticity and Connection.”

“I was wrong” is a phrase that flows freely from courageous, trustworthy character. It teaches. It ennobles. It connects us with our core values and beliefs. Especially when employees feel free to openly discuss how “I was wrong” connects with their core values and beliefs, the culture is enriched. Indeed, the world is enriched.

Invitation: IRF Summit, Washington DC, July 13-15 (Virtual, July 16)

24 May, 2021

SPEAKERS (see all)

The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF) invites you to the first major in-person event to be held in Washington DC since the pandemic, the IRF Summit (register here – $ fee), July 13-15, and the IRF Roundtable Virtual Summit follow-up on July 16 (register here – FREE).

RFBF is a convening sponsor for the IRF Summit, which is also sponsored by the Templeton Religion Trust and the IRF Secretariat, among others. And, at a time when partisanship seems to dominate discussions, the summit has Republican and Democratic co-chairs, and honorary Senate and house co-chairs from both parties.

The IRF Summit 2021 will bring together a broad coalition that passionately supports religious freedom around the globe for a three-day in-person event in Washington D.C., July 13th – July 15th, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel (book room here).

The IRF Roundtable Virtual Summit, July 16th, will make selected presentations from the in-person conference available on-demand as well have have new content focused on action steps. The virtual summit will also present in-depth findings from the to-be-released global survey of advocates for freedom of religion or belief.

Covenantal Pluralism

24 May, 2021

The global challenge of living together peacefully and constructively in the context of deep religious/worldview differences will not be met through bumper-sticker slogans about “tolerance.”

An essay by Religious Freedom & Business Foundation board member, Chris Seiple and coauthors Chris Stewart (Templeton Religion Trust) and Dennis Hoover (Institute for Global Engagement), provides an introductory overview of a richer approach called Covenantal Pluralism, which has been developed over the last few years at the Templeton Religion Trust. The philosophy of covenantal pluralism is a robust, relational, and non-relativistic paradigm of citizenship that emphasizes both legal equality and neighborly solidarity. It calls not only for a constitutional order characterized by equal rights and responsibilities but also a culture of engagement characterized by relationships of mutual respect and protection.

Their essay, Toward a Global Covenant of Peaceable Neighborhood: Introducing the Philosophy of Covenantal Pluralism, lists six characteristics of covenantal pluralism:


This directly relates to a big question that Sir John Templeton asked:

“What conditions contribute to progress in religion?”

In religions, as in science and the economy, progress is possible, but under what conditions? Tolerance is a great starting point, but it can easily become a vehicle for apathy or indifference.

Sir John Templeton thought we could do better. In fact, he believed that there’s vast, untapped potential beyond tolerance. But how do we get there? It starts with humility. If the sum total of what we know about spiritual reality is less than 1%, then should we not be eager to learn from other points of view?

Sir John Templeton believed that engagement across difference accelerates discovery and leads to progress, unleashing social dividends that flow [or: result] from religious faith and practice at its best, transforming religious diversity from a troublesome fact into a positive force. Religions are often seen as competing for people’s hearts and minds, and to some extent this is true.

But can religions (and non-theistic worldviews) engage one another cooperatively and constructively? How can we leverage religion-and-belief diversity to make the world a better place? What are the conditions under which this can happen, and what are the most effective ways of fostering cooperative engagement across deep differences?

That’s why we’re seeking to identify, understand, and promote the conditions that contribute to or enable the sort of open-minded, cooperative competition that Sir John envisioned would lead to progress in religions.

One of the key themes at this year’s Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards is “Covenantal Pluralism.” Join us to see it in action. Also, you can learn more at Templeton Religion Trust and their video below.

COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: Some Comparative Perspectives

22 May, 2021

by Prof. Dr. Javier Martínez-Torrón, published in Laws, an international, scholarly, peer-reviewed, open access journal of legal systems, theory, and institutions.

This week, Laws published a new article by Javier Martínez-Torrón in it’s Special Issue The Crisis of Religious Freedom in the Age of COVID-19 Pandemic. The following is from the conclusion of Martínez-Torrón’s article, COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: Some Comparative Perspectives. You can read the full article here.

“At the beginning of these pages, I mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic has harshly revealed our vulnerability, both as individuals and as community, and has brought to light the best and the worst in us. Depending on whom we look at, we have witnessed incredible acts of altruism, generosity and dedication, in parallel with the desire of taking unfair advantage of the situation—with the latter I refer of course to criminal activities, but we may probably include also the enormous business made with the occasion of medical supplies, protection masks, disinfectants, lab tests, etc., with oscillations in prices that were not certainly moved by philanthropy.

“The foregoing is relevant when we ask ourselves what will remain in our societies after the pandemic passes. What will the world after COVID-19 be like?

“It has been pointed out that, on the positive side, the coronavirus crisis may lead hopefully “to a new sense of community”, considering the feeling of shared responsibility and the many expressions of solidarity generated in a large amount of people during the pandemic, especially in the first months. However, other people have started looking at fellow human beings as a danger, as far as they are potential carriers of the virus, which has led frequently to social distancing—not just physical distancing as a precaution—’as well as growing isolation and loneliness, especially among mentally unstable individuals’. (See Kortmann and Schulze 2021, p. 35).

“At the end of the day, the scientific challenges posed by COVID-19 may be new to a large extent, but when we look for solutions to the social problems it has caused, our best bet is likely on traditional means. From a legal perspective, we need a scrupulous respect for the requirements of the rule of law, with especial emphasis on the protection of fundamental rights, among which is freedom of religion or belief. Every limitation on a fundamental right must be precisely justified and must carefully follow the appropriate procedure, avoiding the temptation to trivialize the guarantee of what are actually the pillars of a democratic society. Allowing that an exceptional health crisis results in a lack of accountability of governments vis-à-vis the citizens would be one of the most undesirable outcomes of the pandemic. And, from a broader social perspective, in addition to the gigantic welfare machinery of the State, we must rely on the traditional resources of society—also its ethical resources, of which religious communities are an integral and essential part.

“Religious freedom is one of the vital freedoms that should not be easily dispensed with, not even in times of emergency, and religious communities—which represent the collective exercise of this fundamental right—are a unique and valuable resource that society has at its disposal to fight against critical threats. These are two lessons that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, and we should take a good note of them for possible future extraordinary crises. If we apply them also to ordinary situations, it would be even better.”

by Javier Martínez-Torrón; Complutense University of Madrid, 28040 Madrid, Spain; Professor of Law, Complutense University of Madrid; President of LIRCE (Instituto para el Análisis de la Libertad y la Identidad Religiosa, Cultural y Ética). Laws 2021, 10(2), 39; Published: 18 May 2021 (This article belongs to the Special Issue The Crisis of Religious Freedom in the Age of COVID-19 Pandemic)

(RNS) Biden White House officials hold first meeting with atheist, secular groups

19 May, 2021

RNS article: May 17, 2021 By Adelle M. Banks

(RNS) — Representatives of atheist and secular groups held their first meeting with White House officials last week, marking a willingness by the Biden administration to work with the growing networks of religiously unaffiliated Americans.

The Secular Coalition for America set up the Friday (May 14) meeting with Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Read full story here.

Why Talk About Religion and Belief at Work?

19 May, 2021

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

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection

Why would people of faith engage with atheists, non-theists, humanists and freethinkers in discussion about one another’s’ beliefs? Many would presume they’d do it for a single purpose: to CONVERT them to their way of thinking. But it’s important to see that many other motives come into play.

Perhaps you feel uncomfortable when people talk about their faith; or when they talk about their disbelief. Perhaps it feels like they’re essentially saying, “You’re a bad person unless you change to believe exactly what I believe”? If so, we’d respectfully ask you to “suspend disbelief” on this particular topic for a few moments, as you read this.

I’d submit that we cannot begin to know the motives of coworkers if our company culture discourages openness about one’s core beliefs and values.

By way of example, suppose coworkers in a quality and reliability team hold a wide range of beliefs. One displays religious symbols on her desk. Another wears a hijab. Another has made clear that he “doesn’t buy that religious stuff.” But their corporate culture makes it uncomfortable to speak of religion or belief. These coworkers are often faced with issues that have ethical ramifications: Should they notify customers of a change in their internal quality processes? Is a potential issue big enough to bother customers with? There are often legitimate views on either side. The coworkers’ core beliefs and values come into play, day by day. Now suppose the “religious” person cites a bible proverb about the importance of earning trust, to support disclosure, and the non-theist feels disclosure isn’t needed. Does the non-theist interpret this as offensive proselytizing? Is the “believer” implying that the non-theist doesn’t value trustworthiness? Does the corporate culture constraining such discussions inadvertently contribute to these kinds of suspicions?

One can never know for certain all the motives behind a coworkers’ words or actions. But openness works better. This is corroborated by the experience of a growing number of companies that have embraced freedom of expression of religion and belief. At companies like Intel and Texas Instruments (tied for #1 in the 2021 Religious Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Index), non-theists and people of a very wide spectrum of religious beliefs are encouraged to talk about their core beliefs and values; and in so doing they’re getting to know one another better, they’re overcoming distrust and fear, and they’re forging warmer, more trusting relationships. Non-theists are welcomed and valued; as are people of faith. Their diverse perspectives are enriching corporate culture and improving the quality of business decisions.

Two videos from the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation’s 2021 Faith@Work ERG Conference provide particularly poignant illustrations on this topic: Our interview with Debbie Allen, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America and a panel discussion among diverse people at Intel. We can cite many other examples.

My point is: Authenticity and Connection WORKS.

Interfaith diversity includes religious people as well as non-theists and humanists

19 May, 2021

At our second annual national Faith@Work Employee Resource Group Conference in Feb. 2021, the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s Kent Johnson hosted a fascinating conversation with Debbie Allen, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. They explored how and why interfaith diversity includes religious people as well as non-theists and humanists.

This discussion illustrated that fundamental disagreements about the merits of traditional faiths need not result in fear or distrust. To the contrary: When we connect authentically and respectfully with people whose worldviews conflict diametrically with our own, it can enable deeper collegiality and more effective collaboration.

Debbie Allen makes the compelling argument that non-theists and humanists should be included in interfaith discussions. Watch the conversation below.


The unseen economic and social impacts of American faith

14 May, 2021

This is especially relevant as societies around the world continue to grapple with and emerge from the pandemic. Religion sometimes gets a bad rap in the 24/7 news cycle. And if we’re not careful, some media narratives might blind us to religion’s enduring social strength. The oftentimes unseen economic and social impacts of American faith needed to be recognized and celebrated.

You can read a new summary of that study in this month’s Deseret Magazine and see a short video summary below.

Strengthening Employee Engagement

14 May, 2021

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

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection

It’s the focus of much discussion today in the human resource profession: How can companies encourage employees to care more about their work, and to engage their work energetically, with a whole heart? It’s clear: When employees’ hearts and minds are connected with their work, they get “fired up,” and powerfully positive business results follow.

People long to connect their core personal mission to their work; and they want confirmation that they’re appreciated for who they are. Problem is, even today, many companies pour cold water on the spirit of their diverse people… especially on those for whom faith and belief forms the core of their identity.

Three of the twelve determinative factors surveyed by Gallup in its highly-regarded “Q12 Employee Engagement Survey are:

  1. 1. Whether “My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.”
  2. 2. Whether “the mission or purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important.”
  3. 3. Whether “I have a best friend at work.”

Think about this:

  1. I. Is it possible to truly care about your employee as a person, and NOT open the door to discussion about his/her core beliefs and principles?
    • — If your organization’s hesitancy to encourage discussion about core beliefs and principles flows from a concern that such discussions will waste time, or cause conflict, consider the message that those concerns carry to people of faith: It essentially says that their faith is unimportant. Unwelcome. Even harmful to the company.
    • — Why not ask on a scale of 1 to 5, whether “My supervisor, or someone at work, has expressed interest in my core values and beliefs.”
  1. II. For people whose faith defines their personal mission and purpose in life, does it make sense to perpetuate a culture that frowns on voluntary and sensitive discussions of faith?
    • — Why de-couple faith from work, when faith is the motivator for excellent service, innovation, compassion, honesty, sensitivity to customer needs, environmental protection, fairness to all, and similar principles?
    • — If the concern is that some faith-based principles may run contrary to those of your company, can you resolve that discord by forcing faith expression underground? Isn’t it better to seek to bring such themes to the surface, where they can be addressed directly?
    • — Why not ask, on a scale of 1 to 5, whether “I feel free to discuss at work how my own personal mission or purpose in life relates to the company’s mission.”
  1. III. How can a culture facilitate deep friendships, if it stifles employee-to-employee connections about spiritual topics?

Internal employee engagement surveys like this one from Gallup serve multiple purposes.

First, they provide a window into the company culture, and how management’s diversity and inclusion efforts are perceived. This information can inform management’s future actions to establish and nurture cultural norms that foster engagement and creativity.

Such surveys also send an internal message about what their leaders think about the importance of their employees. By asking about things that are of paramount importance to many of your people, you demonstrate that you care about them. If your internal surveys are silent about employees’ faith and belief, you’re also sending a message… that you aren’t interested in that important facet of their work lives.

Employee engagement surveys are certainly no panacea. But they can provide a helpful starting point. Beyond that, as you begin to witness the benefits of freedom of religion and belief at work:

  1. 1. Consider joining the growing number of outstanding companies that have officially approved faith-oriented employee resource groups as an integral part of their diversity, equity and inclusion focus. (See the REDI INDEX for examples).
  2. 2. Consider setting aside space for your people to pray, meditate and reflect at work.
  3. 3. Consider providing opportunities for cross-faith exchanges at work, including discussions among people of diverse faiths about how their beliefs relate to and motivate their work.
  4. 4. Consider training to equip managers to constructively engage the religious diversity of your people. (See RFBF Training).
  5. 5. Consider “going public” with your company’s commitment to religious diversity and religious freedom; and supporting religious freedom throughout the world as part of your company’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. What you’re willing to say externally speaks more credibly to your own employees. And it speaks healing and reconciliation to a world racked with cynicism.

Freedom of religion and belief is a rewarding topic for any business that seeks deeper employee engagement. It unleashes energy and engagement. This is worth exploring.