Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


“Higher Education” Needed – On Diverse Religion and Belief

31 Jul, 2021

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

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection

Who is teaching the skills necessary to successfully engage the increasingly religiously diverse workplace landscapes of tomorrow?

     • Does your business school offer a course on how religious beliefs impact employees’ daily work; or on how to engage employees on a spiritual level at work?
     • Does your medical school offer a course on how to discuss death with patients of various faiths?
     • Does your technical school offer a course on the implications of faith and belief in daily work?
     • Does your law school offer a course on navigating faith-based values in the adversarial legal landscape?

Probably not.

There’s a huge gap in higher education. It’s time that gap was closed.

In workplaces around the globe, employees and customers sense a “calling” and responsibility to live out their work lives in concert with the principles of their faith every day. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists, non-theists, people all across the belief spectrum wrestle with the deep questions presented by their work. What is the core WHY behind my daily strivings? How should my core beliefs affect the way I conduct myself at work – especially when nobody’s looking? When do I say NO to the dictate of a boss that contravenes my faith? Is my work life defined simply by the hope of monetary reward?

How can I better understand the core motivations of my diverse coworkers? How can I help employees relate trustfully to coworkers who embrace diverse faiths? What can be done to help employees connect their core beliefs in ways that support the company’s business goals? For that matter, how (if at all) should the core beliefs of employees help shape the goals and vision of my company?

Where should we look for answers to these kinds of questions?

Increasingly, business schools focus on various cultural impediments to human achievement by diverse employees. They identify and lean strongly against overt and unconscious bias (as they should). They explore ways to promote a company culture that inspires all their people to engage heartedly (even soulfully) with their work. Some business schools and engineering schools offer courses on ethics, environmental stewardship, human rights, servant leadership, humility and the like. They raise helpful cautions about the profit motive as the preeminent corporate value. Yet in many schools, personal faith and belief are topics to be avoided, as if they were facets of human life that are irrelevant to work (at best), or destructive and shameful (at worst).

The same aversion to topics of faith and belief applies to many medical schools, law schools and technical schools. As a result, people emerge from our institutions of “higher learning” ignorant of the core values and motivations that influence their future coworkers. Many haven’t thought through the implications of their own professed faith for the way they will conduct themselves at work.

There are exceptions of course. Some faith-oriented colleges and universities seek to address these questions; at least from the perspective of the particular faith they espouse. Notable solid examples include The Catholic University in Washington DC and Brigham Young University in Salt Lake. But ask these questions about the institutions you attended. Are they advancing study on the application of one’s core values and beliefs to one’s work? Are they equipping students to engage meaningfully and trustfully with those whose core beliefs differ from their own? If not, why not?

For far too long, higher education has shunned religion and belief, except as a theological sideline, as if it were isolated from business and daily life. But people’s religion and belief are not going away. To the contrary, as the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has shown, religion and belief are gaining influence worldwide. And core beliefs matter in business and life.

The next generation of workers needs to know how to navigate religious diversity. Will your alma mater offer courses of study to help? Can you help engage institutions of higher learning to begin to grapple with these questions?

It’s worth thinking about. It’s worth a course of study. Help us promote it.