Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Monthly Archives: May 2021

Strengthening Employee Engagement Through Freedom of Religion and Belief For All

12 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.

Religious Literacy in Business

12 May, 2021

By Brian J. Grim & Paul Lambert (2021) Religious Literacy in Business, Religion & Education, 48:1, 57-73, DOI: 10.1080/15507394.2021.1877521

This article shows why religious literacy is important for the global economy and the businesses within it. Religion impacts the workplace and the marketplace, coworkers and partners as well as customers and clients. Religious populations are dramatically outgrowing nonreligious populations worldwide, especially so in emerging markets where Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Pentecostal Christian populations are growing. At the same time there is a global countervailing trend of rising restrictions on freedom of religion and belief.

At a macro level, such restrictions threaten the health and growth potential of the global economy. At a micro level, companies tone deaf to religion will be less successful in an increasingly religious world and marketplace than companies that are faith aware. Companies that are in touch with religious dynamics are usually those that have become faith friendly workplaces, embracing religion and belief as part of their overall equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives.

There are specific practices that companies can take to advance religious literacy in the workplace that will align with the trends in the marketplace and empower employees to contribute their fullest to their employers. Religious literacy for business is not primarily about having knowledge of religious beliefs and practices, although that can be helpful. It is more about having an understanding of how religion impacts the workplace and the marketplace, coworkers and partners as well as customers and clients. This is true at both macro and micro levels. At macro levels, national and global economies thrive where religious freedom exists.

At a micro business level, companies that practice religious accommodation and recognize religious diversity see better results in the key indicators that impact the bottom line. In this article, we will demonstrate why religious literacy leads to better business environments at the macro and micro level by looking at religion’s role in business, current status of religious literacy and protections in the global economy and within businesses, implications of religious literacy and persecution levels, and how specific businesses are addressing religion today.

Access the full article here.

Ethical Management and Faith in an Era of Woke Capitalism

12 May, 2021

For decades, people have been calling for businesses to be more ethical. All of a sudden, it seems, there’s a mad rush by companies to be ethical: but with “ethical” defined as paying homage to whatever the politically correct idea of the moment is—and with zero tolerance, sometimes even outright hostility, for any other view, particularly a religious one. This is called “woke” capitalism.

From Monday, October 12 through Wednesday, October 14, 2020, the Busch School and the Napa Institute convened business, ecclesiastical, and academic leaders in New York and virtually to explore the phenomenon of woke capitalism and its implications for ethical management, particularly for people of faith. We sought to answer two important sets of questions about it. The first set of questions were around what is woke capitalism exactly: where did it come from, is it really a problem, and if so, how serious is it? The second set of questions were around what we—as managers, investors, scholars, citizens—should do about it.

Below is a summary of Brian Grim’s talk given at the conference.

IT CAN SEEM THAT LARGE CORPORATIONS are some of the worst offenders when it comes to woke capitalism. Brian Grim is the President of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, and he has a more positive opinion. He talked about how many large corporations are becoming more faith-friendly, with companies like Google, Intel, and American Express having company-sponsored faith-based groups. 

Grim began by pointing out that corporate interest in “diversity” often does not extend to diverse religions. His particular interest is faith-oriented Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which help people align home, work, and worship. He explained that such groups are good for employers because restrictions on religious expression at work hurt productivity. 

He listed six principles: 

  • 1. The modern corporate world is a mosaic, not a melting pot—there should be respect for all religions. 
  • 2. ERGs are a support for employers, for example in recruiting and mentoring. 
  • 3. ERGs promote inter-religious cooperation for example through cosponsored activities by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups at American Airlines. 
  • 4. ERGs make sense for both minority and majority faiths. 
  • 5. Managers should accept that faith is a workplace issue.
  • 6. Company chaplaincy programs are good as they can boost morale. 


Religious, Civil, and Economic Freedoms: What’s the Chicken and What’s the Egg?

11 May, 2021

Economic freedom is frequently taken as a given in the United States and most of the developed world.

But, what if economic freedom is a luxury that arises only in the presence of something even more fundamental: religious liberty?

In a new working paper, and summarized in a recent op-ed, Christos A. Makridis shows that religious liberty is a prerequisite to economic freedom.

Using a sample of over 140 countries between 1996 and 2018, he shows that improvements in religious liberty pre-date improvements in economic freedom, but not the other way around, even after controlling for macroeconomic indicators, such as employment and gross domestic product growth. The logic is simple: since religious freedom fundamentally involves granting individuals the autonomy to think and worship in whatever form they wish, it is arguably the most basic of all freedoms. Property rights are of little use if those who retain them do not have the freedom to think what they wish and practice what they believe.

Christos also documents several new facts about religious liberty across countries and over time. Most importantly, it has declined substantially between 2010 and 2020, dropping by 29.6% in the United States, 16.2% in the United Kingdom, and 36.7% in France just to name a few prime examples. In general, religious liberty has declined more in countries that traditionally rank high in their economic freedom, especially property rights.

These new results highlight the importance of preserving religious liberty, especially now, across all layers of society. Once the freedom to think and worship freely slips, all other freedoms will shortly vanish.

See Christos’ other research on his website or connect with him on LinkedIn.

What We’ve Lost in Rejecting the Sabbath

8 May, 2021

By Brian Grim, RFBF President

The Wall Street Journal is not the place one might expect to find an essay titled What We’ve Lost in Rejecting the Sabbath, but that is what’s featured in today’s weekend edition. It’s even highlighted on the front page of the print edition. In the essay, Sohrab Ahmari looks back in U.S. history to a time when setting aside one day a week for rest and prayer was not only an American tradition, but one backed up with the force of law.

Across the U.S., Blue Laws used to mandate that businesses close on Sunday, the Sabbath in most Christian traditions. Even today in Europe, some countries continue to limit or prohibit shops from opening in Sundays.

Ahmari argues that in an age of constant activity and smart devices blurring the space between home and work, we need it more than ever. Drawing on the thinking of the famouus rabbi and theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972), Ahmari proposes that the Sabbath was a revolution, and in fact could be revolutionary today if more widely practiced.

It is difficult to imagine just how revolutionary the Sabbath vision must have appeared in the ancient world, where vast multitudes of people were slaves. Into such a world, there appeared a religion that told slaves they had an identity separate from their labor, that their nonwork was sacred. Judaism taught men and women to find inner liberty by freeing themselves from “domination of things as well as from domination of people,” as Heschel observed.

In practice, companies that close for the Sabbath in America today are doing quite well. For example, Chick-fil-A closes all its restaurants on Sundays, which seems to only increase demand. It regularly has the highest volume in sales (average unit volume) per location.

King Husein, CEO of Span Construction (the largest steel metal construction company in the U.S. and builder of Costco stores) also has a policy of no work for all in his company on the Sabbath. He believes that it’s core to what has made his company successful. See short discussion below, or full discussion here.

Of course, Sabbaths are different for different  faiths, which not only makes policy around this topic difficult, but also presents difficulties for those whose Sabbath is not on Sunday, which includes Jews, Muslims and Seventh Day Adventists, to name a few. And, for those with a deeply held belief to maintain Sabbath observance, recent law has not always sided with the employee seeking an accommodation.

For example, as summarized by Beckett, “Darrell Patterson, a Seventh-day Adventist and longtime dedicated Walgreens employee, had a long-standing agreement with his supervisor at Walgreens—because he could not work on Saturday, the Adventist Sabbath, others would cover any shifts that occurred during that time.

“But when Walgreens executives scheduled an emergency weekend training after violating Alabama pharmacy law, Patterson paid the price for their error. Patterson was suddenly fired after he was unable to report to work on a Saturday. Forced to choose between his faith and providing for his family, Mr. Patterson sued Walgreens for religious discrimination, but both the district and appeals courts sided with the company.

“In 2018, Mr. Patterson appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Becket asked the Court to protect Mr. Patterson and the right of Americans of all faiths to live and work according to one’s religious beliefs, which includes a longstanding practice central to many faiths: observance of the Sabbath.

“The Supreme Court denied review in Patterson v. Walgreens on February 24, 2020.”

Patterson v. Walgreens from Religious Freedom & Business Fnd on Vimeo.

However, more and more companies are adopting an accommodation mindset when it comes to such issues. Google, for example, has recently launched a global employee resource group for Googlers of faith and their allies. One if its priorities is to help the company recognize and adjust scheduling so that religious employees’ holy days are respected and accommodated. See more here.

The Role of Faith ERGs and Faith Communities in Advancing Health – June 3

6 May, 2021


When: June 3, 1:00-1:30pm US Eastern Time

Registration required

As the work world emerges from the global COVID pandemic, many companies are grappling with the psychological toll in addition to covid’s physical toll.

Faith employee resource groups (ERGs) in the world’s most successful companies can play a role in advancing physical and psychological health in today’s world. Many, in fact, played a roll in keeping people connected and physiologically healthy during the pandemic, as was reported in numerous ERG community calls during the height of the pandemic.

Indeed, the positive connection between religion/spirituality and health is one of the most empirical and well-researched areas involving social determinants of health and wellbeing. The Duke University Medical School’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, led by Harold G. Koenig, M.D., M.H.Sc., has been at the forefront of these scientific discoveries.

For example from the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s own cutting edge research, see Belief, Behavior, and Belonging: How Faith is Indispensable in Preventing and Recovering from Substance Abuse, a Faith Counts study published in the Journal of Religion and Health by the father-daughter research team Brian & Melissa Grim.

Join the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s president Brian Grim as he discuss this with guests including Dr. Koenig, the World Economic Forum’s Kelly McCain, who will introduce the Forum’s project Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare. The Platform serves the mission to ensure every person on earth has equal access to the highest standards of health and healthcare by keeping populations healthy and delivering the best care.

Lena Barkley from CVS Health and Ronald Wampler from Aetna will describe how their Faith CRGs advance health.

Also, Fr. Greg McBrayer, Chief Flight Controller and Chaplain at American Airlines Flight Operations Center IOC in DFW, and lead for the Christian Employee Business Resource Group at American Airlines, will discuss how faith contributes to health in the airline and travel industries (also see: Airports Step Up Mental Health Assistance as Passenger Anxiety Soars).

Confirmed Panelists thus far include:

  • Harold G. Koenig, M.D. Duke University Medical School Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Associate; Professor of Medicine; Director, Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina; Adjunct Professor, Dept of Medicine, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Adjunct Professor of Public Health, Ningxia Medical University, Yinchuan, P.R. China; Visiting Professor, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz, Iran.
  • Lena Barkley from CVS Health and Ronald Wampler from Aetna will describe how their Faith CRGs advance health.
  • Fr. Greg McBrayer, Chief Flight Controller and Chaplain at American Airlines Flight Operations Center IOC in DFW, and lead for the Christian Employee Business Resource Group at American Airlines
  • Kelly McCain, World Economic Forum, Project Lead for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare

For more on the connection between faith and health, see the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s research on faith and recovery.

RFBF Senior Fellow Dr. Susan Kerr appointed to senior role in OSCE body

5 May, 2021

Dr Susan Kerr, a Senior Research Fellow at the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, has been appointed as the Senior Adviser on Freedom of Religion or Belief at the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE’s) Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

The OSCE is the world’s largest regional security organization. It has 54 participating states, stretching from Canada and the US, across Europe and Central Asia to Russia. OSCE participating states have made a number of important political commitments in the area of freedom of religion or belief.

Susan begins in this role today and we wish her every success in promoting religious freedom across the OSCE region.

The National Day of Prayer – at Work!

4 May, 2021

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

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection

The National Day of Prayer is an annual day of observance on the first Thursday of May designated by the U.S. Congress, when people are asked to turn to God in prayer and meditation. On April 17, 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed a Congressional bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer be declared by each president at a date of his choice. On June 17, 1952, Pres. Truman issued a proclamation for the first Day of Prayer to be held on July 4, 1952. The law was later amended so the day would be on the first Thursday in May as it still continues.

Increasingly, The National Day of Prayer (NDP) is being observed in schools and workplaces not only by Christians, but by people of many other faiths as well. Many are now seeing the NDP as an opportunity to build bridges while maintaining fidelity to their particular faith. The NDP illustrates some of the ways that freedom of religion and belief enables meaningful connection and flourishing in the workplace.

Prayer is a profoundly personal and intimate practice, often reserved for individuals in solitude or groups of like-minded people in dedicated settings. So for many, multi-faith NDP events stretch the boundaries of traditional prayer. Yet, done sensitively, they can be conducted in ways that are fully consistent with the diverse participants’ practices and beliefs; and in ways that free participants to live out their faith openly in the workplace.

As people across the religious and ideological spectrum gather voluntarily on the first Thursday in May to express goodwill toward one another and toward their companies and the world, they recognize that their prayers – and their gods – are different. For example:

  • – Many Jews, Christians and Muslims direct their prayers to the one they consider the creator and sustainer of all things.
  • – For many Hindus, prayers can be directed to various gods.
  • – For many Buddhists, prayer isn’t seen as a petition addressed to any god or other being; rather, it’s intended to awaken a spiritual awareness or strength within.
  • – For many atheists, the dedicated time of reflection provides occasion for a sincere exploration and expression of heart-felt ideas.

Where various faiths and belief systems are represented in the group, it’s important to clarify at the start the intent behind the gathering; including what it IS, and what it is NOT.

  • – This IS an event where attendees should feel free to pray authentically, as they normally do in other settings, in accordance with the practices of their faith and culture.
  • – Attendees are NOT, simply by their presence, necessarily joining in or agreeing with the prayers of people whose faiths differ from their own; nor are they affirming the efficacy or appropriateness of prayers given by people of other faiths.
  • – Attendees are asked to listen to the prayers of others; and, in the silence of their own hearts, to affirm any sentiments and ideas that they personally identify with, in whatever way they consider appropriate and consistent with their personal beliefs.

In our many years of experience with this kind of public multi-faith prayer event, we’ve seen some important commonalities, despite the significant differences in belief:

  • – The people who attend such an event are sincere. Their prayers come from the heart. Even those who come simply because they’re curious are sincere in wanting to learn something about others’ prayer practices and beliefs.
  • – The prayers and meditations reflect participants’ earnest desire to connect with the divine or with ultimate reality.
  • – The prayers reflect goodwill toward others, and toward the company.
  • – The event creates opportunities for deeper, warmer and more personal connections among participants, as they experience one others’ sincere, selfless prayers on their behalf, for their flourishing.

There have been isolated instances where particular vocalized prayers at these multi-faith workplace events were interpreted by some as judgmental and negative. But that’s a very rare exception.

The National Day of Prayer is just one small sphere in which freedom of religion and belief is bearing fruit in workplaces; but it’s a particularly poignant one. The fact that it’s possible to engage meaningfully and positively with one another in this very personal activity of prayer illustrates that we can build bridges of understanding and compassion in many other ways as well.

That’s something to pray for.

The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, together with faith-and-belief Employee Resource Group (ERG) leaders from Walmart and Intel will hold a National Prayer Day event open for employees of companies from all faiths and beliefs to join on Thursday, May 6, 2021, at 1pm Eastern Time.