Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


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.