Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Monthly Archives: August 2021

A New Lens: Unique Abilities, Not Disabilities

28 Aug, 2021

The benefits of workplace accommodation and respecting the human dignity of all

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

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection

“Survival of the fittest.” It’s a principle we can observe again and again, not just in the wild jungles, deserts, and seas, but also on the world’s political stage, and even in our workplaces, as dominant powers sometimes subjugate and abuse those who are vulnerable. Is this who we are as human beings?

I was deeply moved this week when a corporate leader described being clinically blind as a “blessing.” He opened our eyes. He explained how the constraints of blindness have enabled him to lift others up, to show others how to build trust and collaboration, and to strengthen the fabric of corporate culture. This was just one vignette in a tapestry of inspiring personal stories at the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation’s “Dare To Overcome” conference at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, also held virtually worldwide.

The concepts discussed at the conference have powerful and broad relevance, not just to the needs of people with varying abilities among us. Whether faced with a disability or not, we all, in some way and in some places, from time to time, struggle with constraints and weaknesses. Though they may not equate with disabilities, per se, we can learn much from our colleagues with disabilities about how our constraints and weaknesses might present opportunities for blessing. Fact is, we are a community of people who need each other. Help, freely given to the vulnerable without expectation of recompense, is the lifeblood of civility.

The cultural enrichment that comes from heightened sensitivity to others’ needs is just one facet of the business benefit that flows from embracing people with disabilities. Another benefit comes from the insight and heightened abilities they bring to work. For instance, one speaker at the conference described how a company’s focus on accommodation of autistic people led to new AI facial recognition technology that has far broader uses. And, since all technology can be used for good or evil, it’s important to give voice to those who might be especially vulnerable to the negative impacts of some uses.

Some might think discussion of disability and vulnerability is a bit “off topic” for a foundation focused on religious freedom in business. Here are three thoughts on the connection:

(1) As “Dare To Overcome” speakers pointed out, people of every faith, no matter how dominant on the world stage or in particular communities, are in the minority somewhere else. People of every faith are subject to marginalization, oppression, and even genocide somewhere. At the Dare to Overcome conference we heard a poignant cry for help for Yezidi women in Iraq. Religious hatred isn’t the same as physical or developmental disability; but people who indulge in religious hatred have disabled their civility.

(2) Nearly all faiths urge compassion towards and protection of the vulnerable of society. They teach that the arrogance of the powerful is a form of blindness. Some point out the ironic fact that, when we are weak and recognize our weakness, then we are strong. And many affirm the great value of every human being, regardless of one’s social standing or particular set of vulnerabilities.

(3) Like we benefit from accommodating people with various disabilities in the workplace, we will benefit in a similar way from accommodating people of diverse religions in our midst. (Note: I’m not equating religious belief with disability. Far from it. But in some cultures, minority religions are wrongfully treated as a liability or problem.) Companies ought to give voice to members of religious minorities for many reasons, including that of enabling deeper, more trusting connection among coworkers. A corporate culture that humbly acknowledges, respects and listens to its people of different faiths – without imposing the idea that all their respective truth claims are equally valid – is open to fresh, breakthrough insights. The blessing of insight from diversity is especially transformative and healing in cultures where a particular religion or way of thinking is viewed as dominant. Even in what we consider a “free” society, we must be vigilant to guard against the blind arrogance of the powerful, or it will marginalize the vulnerable and foreclose this blessing.

The theme “Dare to Overcome” presented three challenges. The first and obvious one is directed to those of us who have disabilities and constraints: We should keep striving and never lose hope.

The second speaks to all of us; especially those in the dominant culture and in the mainstream, who may think we have no disabilities: We should dare to overcome the prevalent cultural pressure to think of ourselves as self-sufficient or good enough without help.

Third, we should humbly appreciate and celebrate the unique abilities and perspectives that disabled people bring (as illustrated by the blind corporate leader). In so doing, we will nurture relationships of trust, we’ll strengthen the fabric of civility in this all-too-hostile world and we’ll be living true to the values we profess: the values that make us human.

We can do much better than replicate the harsh realities of the wild jungle, the barren desert and the roaring sea. Our workplace culture ought not be a place where it’s “survival of the fittest” or the most powerful. Work ought to be a place where respect and accommodation for every human being — regardless of status or affiliation — are the starting point. Caring for each other, regardless of vulnerability, is a good start. Our faiths lead us to this. Together, let us “dare to overcome!”

To drive home the point, let me end with this inspirational clip of the “Dare To Overcome” Virtual Global Choir.

Global Business Overcomer’s Award

24 Aug, 2021

Profile: Mr. Hiroyasu Itoh
• CEO, Abilities Care-net, Inc.
• Chairperson, Japan Abilities Association (NPO)
• Former Vice Chairperson, Subcommittee on Anti-discrimination, in Policy Committee for People with Disabilities (under the National Cabinet Office)
• Chairperson, National Network of Japanese with Disabilities Act (JDA)
• Vice Chairperson, Healthcare Forum Japan (NPO)
• Guest Professor, Wenjing College of Yantai University, China (2015–)
• Guest Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences of Waseda University (2004–2012); Subjects taught: Social Security and Social services.

Honors and Awards Prime Minister‘s Award (Japan), 1987 Prince Henrik’s Medal of Honor (Denmark), 2001 Bachelor of Commerce (Business, Management, Marketing, Related Support Service, Waseda University Commercial Department, 1966

In March 1966, after graduating from Waseda University, Mr. Itoh started the Abilities Movement, establishing Japan Abilities Association. One month later, in this statement, he declared the principle of this movement: “We seek opportunity, not security.“ Two months later, he established a commercial printing company, targeted at employing persons with disabilities. The first 5 employees, who happened to be persons with severe disabilities, assumed leading roles in the company. Today, this company has evolved into Abilities Care-net, Inc., a company in which Mr. Itoh is CEO. For over 50 years, Mr. Itoh has successfully and aggressively employed qualified individuals with physical, learning and developmental disabilities. The company is dedicated to demonstrating that disabled persons can work as effectively and productively as any other person in the workforce.

In 1971, Mr. Itoh submitted a proposal to Mr. Kenzaburo Hara, Japanese Minister of Labor, requesting a reform of the employment law for people with disabilities. This single action created the platform for an official review of the Handicapped/Disabled Persons’ Employment Promotion Act by the national government. In October 1975, the revised Act passed in the Diet; it became effective in April 1976. After extensive preparation begun in 1972, Mr. Itoh’s Abilities company expanded to development, sales, and import business of assistive devices and rehabilitation equipment on July 15, 1974. In November of that year, the Ministry of Health requested that Mr. Itoh develop the Home Care & Rehab International Exhibition. The first exhibition was an overwhelming success. (October 2016 is the exhibition’s 43rd year.) Abilities continues to develop a variety of assistive devices, supporting independent living for people with disabilities, and expanding the worldwide network for distribution of its products.

In 1999, Mr. Itoh initiated the management of healthcare and medical facilities. This included daycare services for the elderly, assisted living homes for the elderly and disabled, and a rehabilitation center and clinic. The United Nations challenged the Japanese government to establish anti-discrimination laws for people with disabilities in September 2001. However, the Japanese government ignored the challenge and did not act. Mr. Itoh’s dedication and enthusiasm for bettering the opportunities for people with disabilities entered a new phase in 2001 with a movement to realize the Japanese with Disabilities Act (JDA), securing basic human rights for all Japanese with disabilities.

He established “National Network of JDA” in cooperation with 12 major organizations for people with disabilities. As executive director, he worked actively and tirelessly to energize the movement, hosting many lectures, a symposium, and open forum. Mr. Itoh invited noted authorities from the United States, to share information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the relationship between government and services for the elderly. In January 2002, he promoted one of his employees, Mr. Takahiro Kuroiwa, who, in the national election, won a seat in the National Diet. Mr. Kuroiwa has worked to inform and promote understanding of the needs for a JDA, among his colleagues in Parliament. Finally, in November 2009, Mr. Yukio Hatoyama, Prime Minister at the time, recommended the reform of programs for people with disabilities, in three arenas. In only two weeks, the Cabinet approved the establishment of the core group to spearhead the reform, with the Prime Minister as its principal Director. This was the beginning of the work to reform the basic law, to establish the law for comprehensive support, and to establish the anti-discrimination law, all for people with disabilities.

One year later, Mr. Itoh was appointed Vice Chairman of the Subcommittee on Anti-Discrimination at Prime Minister’s Department. And in September 2012, his Subcommittee presented its 90-page report to the Minister of State. In June of the following year, the Anti-Discrimination Law for People with Disabilities unanimously passed in both the House of Representatives and House of Councilors. It became law in April 2016. The Abilities movement celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in April 2016. Abilities Care-net opened a local affiliate office in Taiwan, “Abilities Healthcare Taiwan” in November 2013. Today, Abilities Care-net, Inc. has over 35 sales offices and rental centers for the distribution of rehabilitation and assistive equipment all over Japan. And, it operates 30 rehabilitation and care facilities in Japan. Among its staff of 1,000, individuals with different disabilities work equally, alongside those without disabilities. As the driving force behind the Abilities movement for over 50 years, Mr. Itoh’s passion and enthusiasm were motivated by his own personal experience at the outset his career. His affected lower limb, a result of contracting polio at the age of one year, has little to do with HIS abilities as a businessman, as a visionary, and as an inspiration to so many.


Announcing the Women’s CEO IRF Roundtable!

23 Aug, 2021

Invitation to Women Business CEOs

Join us virtually on Sept. 2 and in-person on Oct. 29 in Dallas, TX, to begin to use our business know-how to address religious and gender-based discrimination against women, such as the ISIS genocide of Yezidis, with thousands of Yezidi women still held as sex slaves by ISIS fighters, as well as the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Email Roundtable secretary Christina Clark for details.

Case-in-point: Yezidi Women Recovering from Genocide

Meet the Co-Chairs

Intel’s top leaders to receive Business & Interfaith Peace Gold Medal Aug. 24

22 Aug, 2021

Intel’s CEO Pat Gelsinger and EVP Sandra Rivera to receive 2021 Global Business & Interfaith Peace Award Gold Medal on August 24 in Virtual Ceremony

The join other CEOs from US, UK Iraq, Israel, India, Australia, Japan to be honored from multiple industries: technology, construction, health, food, manufacturing, legal services

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Washington DC, 22 Aug. 2021, 00:00 AM

Pat Gelsinger and Sandra Rivera will virtually take the stage, speak and be honored with Gold Medals at the global Dare to Overcome conference on August 24 for their work in interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace.

“Pat and Sandra are showing Corporate America and the world that creating a culture where people can bring their whole selves to work – faith, beliefs and all – is good for people, good for business and good for society,” said Dr. Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. “This is for everyone,” said Grim, “because everyone’s core values (religious or not) are the engine driving commitment and innovation.”

The Intel Corporation is the most religiously inclusive Fortune 100 company in America, according to the REDI Index. Pat Gelsinger, Intel’s CEO, and Sandra Rivera, Intel’s CPO, have helped create a culture where people can bring their whole selves to work — faith and all — thanks to solidly incorporating religious diversity into their overall diversity and inclusion commitments. Intel’s embrace of religious inclusivity is seen in their willingness to officially sponsor a wide range of faith-based employee resource groups. These groups not only support members of their particular faiths, but also work together in an interfaith association to support all employees at Intel to succeed in work and life, indeed, a positive model for society at large.

Winners of the third biannual Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards will express their thoughts on faith and work as they are presented with Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals in a virtual global ceremony at noon ET, Tuesday, Aug. 24, the day of the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. For winners in Japan, a special awards ceremony will be held at the prestigious Sophia University in Tokyo on Aug. 22.

Previous Awards were presented in tandem with the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro (2016) and in Seoul (2018), where former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, and former general manager of Bain Capital, Robert C. Gay, gave keynote addresses.

The awards are presented by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, a US-based nonprofit, in cooperation with the United Nations Global Compact’s Business for Peace initiative. The foundation helps educate the global business community about how religious freedom is good for business and how they can promote respect for freedom of religion or belief.

Winners come from a variety of religious backgrounds and manage companies and enterprises in Australia, India, Iraq, Israel, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals are given in three categories: Core Business, Philanthropy, and Advocacy.

The Core Business gold medal is shared by Pat Gelsinger, Intel’s CEO, and Sandra Rivera, Intel Executive Vice President, former Chief People Officer and now General Manager of the Datacenter & Artificial Intelligence Group, who have helped create a culture where people can bring their whole selves to work – faith and all – thanks to solidly incorporating religious diversity into their overall diversity & inclusion commitments.

The Philanthropy gold medal goes to Dr. Judith Richter, CEO of the Israeli heart stint company Medinol, who also founded the NIR School of the Heart to help high school students not only understand cardio-vascular career opportunities but also connect the hearts of people from different cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.

The Advocacy gold medal goes to King Husein, Chairman and CEO of Span Construction & Engineering, who has played a critical role addressing the rising tide of restrictions on religious freedom that has swept the globe over the past decade. His efforts range from helping found the South Asian Consortium for Religion and Law Studies, to helping to kick off the first-ever Business Roundtable to advance International Religious Freedom during the 2019 UN General Assembly in New York City.

Silver medals go to John Tyson (Core Business), Chairman of Tyson Foods, who was an early pioneer of building a faith-friendly workplace by recognizing the spiritual and psychological needs of all employees; Maurice Ostro (Philanthropy), Chair of Ostro Fayre Share Foundation, Vice Chair of the Council of Christians and Jews (the UK’s oldest interfaith organization) and the Founding Patron of the Faiths Forum for London; and Peter Mousaferiadis (Advocacy), founder of Cultural Infusion in Australia, who is a pioneer in using cultural and artistic expression as a means of promoting social cohesion and interfaith understanding.

And the three bronze medals go to Khalid Khowshnaw (Core Business), founder the Hemn Construction Group in Iraqi Kurdistan, combats discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, or sectarian identity by intentionally hiring differing nationalities to working alongside one another; Dr. John Gathright (Philanthropy), founder of Tree Climbing Japan, who helps children of differing faiths, abilities, and challenges come together to find an increased self-confidence through embracing the challenge of climbing trees; and Candice Corby (Advocacy), founder of Cobra Legal Solutions in India and the U.S., who promotes the celebration of religion and belief, encouraging employees to be their full selves, including bringing their faith and beliefs to work in this majority-female law firm.

“These CEOs show that business is a powerful force for building interfaith understanding, religious freedom and peace in workplaces, marketplaces and in societies at large,” said Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and global chair of Dare to Overcome. “Indeed,” Grim said, “civil society and governments have much to learn about building religious freedom in practice from these amazing champions.”

Dare to Overcome

The awards are presented as the culminating virtual event of Dare to Overcome (DTO) (at noon US ET on August 24, 2021), the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s signature global conference, with the mission of shining a light on successes in promoting mutual respect and allyship among diverse communities. Each day focuses on a different theme:

– Aug. 22: Social Justice, Equity and Religious Non-discrimination
– Aug. 23: Intersectionality Between Faith & Abilities Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
– Aug. 24: Business for Interfaith Understanding, Peace & Inclusion.

Please join on the 24th us to hear and interact with these CEOs as well as experience DTO’s gala finale: our virtual 200-member global choir from dozens of countries, faiths and ethnicities singing the Dare to Overcome original anthem!

Additional Details

The 2021 jury is comprised of a group of high-level experts, including from the European Union (H.E. Ján Figeľ, former Special Envoy for promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU); the NGO religious freedom community (Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice, and a former Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom); and the business & peace community (Per L. Saxegaard, Business CEO, and Founder and Executive Chairman of the Business for Peace Foundation, Oslo, Norway).

RELIEF from the Culture Wars!

13 Aug, 2021

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

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection

Today, in many circles, certain words and phrases are instantly presumed to signify that the speaker has bad character and dangerous intent, and is worthy of mockery, condemnation and aggressive opposition. Presumed association with a group or worldview is enough to spark distrust, fear and hatred; and in extreme cases even promotes violence.

You’ve seen it on social media, and, chances are, even in your workplace. You yourself may have fed the drama.

Against this volatile cultural backdrop, how can we begin to weave a fabric of civility?

There’s hope. We at the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation have seen how Businesses can launch transformative ventures of civility across cultures, by embracing Covenantal Pluralism.

Let me begin by providing two controversial examples from workplaces: one individual’s perception of the study of “intersectionality and critical race theory,” and another’s perception of the promotion of “religious freedom.” (Warning: I’m going to wildly oversimplify controversial issues here – and I don’t intend to “take sides” on any of the controversies – but if you’ll bear with me, I think you’ll see the overall goal of this analysis is helpful and apt).

First, “Intersectionality.” Ann (a fictitious name) sees the growing focus on intersectionality and critical race theory in diversity training as a means by which socialists are fueling anger and resentment among aggrieved parties in order to influence legislators to force an unfair and counterproductive governmental redistribution of wealth. More troubling than that, she worries that certain coworkers are pushing for a Marxist revolution and establishment of an all-powerful central government that will crush people like her. This impacts her work, because, in the course of the diversity training, Ann feels she’s been accused of having racial bias, simply by virtue of her race. She worries that this will impede her advancement in the company.

Second, “Religious Freedom.” Bob (a fictitious name) sees the phrase “religious freedom” as a pretense by which fundamentalists are trying to deny HIS freedoms, and to condemn him. The CEO of the company he works for says the business is run according to “Biblical principles,” and openly supports legislation to advance “religious freedom.” Bob says, “Why should fundamentalists be allowed to cram their restrictions and condemnation down our throats?” He worries that his employer seeks to impose a theocracy that deplores the core values and beliefs of people like him. He feels alienated, powerless and fearful.

Two different topics. In each case, the perceived threat is both personal and corporate. It seems each is promoting laws and policies that would protect its interest by imposing restrictions on the other. It’s adversarial. One side’s success would spell the other’s failure. The fears are real; and they greatly complicate relationships at work.

Time for disclaimers. What I have to suggest is no panacea. I’m not contending that protective laws and policies are unnecessary. I won’t resolve the complex issues associated with these topics. But I’ll suggest a step toward strengthening the fabric of civility in your workplace, person by person.

I believe that though it’s important to understand the past, historical conflicts need not prevent us from creating something new and better. Through one-on-one engagement that remains true to the core values of each person, we can nurture a culture that respects differences without trying to compel uniformity of core beliefs.

Intersectionality and religious freedom are just two of many possible examples, but by way of illustration, let’s push ourselves to think anew about the goals and the potential impact of each. We can do this by opening the door to employees’ respectful discussion of core values and beliefs. (Not compelling such discussion; but encouraging it). Returning to our two examples:

Ann chose to engage with the colleague who said she was a bigot; to give that person the benefit of doubt concerning intent. Over time, Ann and her colleague began to perceive another facet of “intersectionality” in a generic sense. They discovered that they share a belief in God, and they both aspire to treat others the way they themselves would like to be treated. They learned that each has a family member (by blood or marriage), whom they love, who ascribes to the views of the other on intersectionality; and some who belong to the same organizations. Their common interest in caring about their family members with different views brought them together. Today the two are close friends, working in concert.

What about Bob? In light of negative experiences with religious people from whom he sensed condemnation, he was unwilling to engage with the advocate of religious freedom. But a trusted colleague told him about a panel discussion at his company among people of various faiths, and an atheist, about how the speakers’ faith and belief systems affected their work. He attended. To his surprise, he witnessed genuine respect and warmth among these diverse speakers. Each remained true to his or her belief system; yet they really seemed to respect and care for one another. He was encouraged by what he saw; and today he’s a strong advocate of reaching out to “the other side.” Talk with him today, and you’ll come away filled with hope for civility.

Multiply these personal interactions by the thousands, and you’ll begin to see how workplaces that enable and encourage discussion of core values and beliefs are serving as platforms for civility to grow. Tremendous solid progress is made, one-on-one. But it doesn’t stop there: As each person engages on a deeper level with another representing a different perspective, the positive ripple effect spreads 360 degrees, as other colleagues witness reconciliation.

This doesn’t just happen spontaneously. But it’s possible. And it’s happening in more and more companies. A key starting point is to reach broad agreement on a set of basic ground-rules on which, in our experience, almost everyone will agree. For more on that, see our list of Basic Principles and our forthcoming article on Covenantal Pluralism.*

To learn more about the encouraging cultural transformations sweeping many companies, and to see how these themes of positive intersectionality and freedom of religion and belief work together, join us August 24 for the DARE TO OVERCOME conference. Register HERE.

* Author’s Accepted Manuscript. Forthcoming as, Brian Grim and Kent Johnson, “Corporate Religious Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as Covenantal Pluralism.” In Chris Seiple and Dennis R. Hoover, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Religious Literacy, Pluralism, and Global Engagement (Oxford: Routledge, 2022).