Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


An Encouraging Word

26 Jan, 2022

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

Part of the blog series, Authenticity & Connection and based on last week’s talk Kent gave to 250 people at American Express

Let me share some good news, to quell some of the fear, worry, skepticism, anger and distrust that seem to define culture in many companies today.

At the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, we celebrate companies that are nurturing authenticity and connection among their employees and with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. In order to do that, we connect with people up and down the reporting chain; with people of all races, religions, nationalities, political persuasions, genders, sexual orientations; young and old. And when we connect, we seek to connect people with one another’s core beliefs and motivations … what really makes them “tick.” What we’re learning is hugely encouraging.

I could share many inspiring stories, but let me start with this week. I was invited to give a talk to AMEX employees. Leaders of their Jewish, Muslim and Christian groups (CHAI, Peace and Salt) each shared what they’re doing. What wonderful work! Among other things, they spoke of how they are reaching out to one another, to build genuine friendships.

We spoke about:

  • — The inherent dignity of every human being
  • — How religious diversity can be the fabric of civility
  • — How people of different faiths can learn from one another without compromising the beliefs that define their core identity

We explored reasons why people do what they do at work: Is it the possibility of higher pay? Personal recognition? Avoidance of blame? A desire to help the working group succeed? The “satisfaction of a job well done?” A desire to provide truly useful goods and services to customers? To make the world a better place? We noted that for many, the ultimate “why” of work is rooted in their faith. They seek to obey and honor god (or their core values) in the way they perform their duties, and in the way they treat others. That’s why they honor their commitments, treat others with respect, give credit to others where it’s due, visit coworkers in the hospital, and show other kindnesses. For some, such deeds are a way of earning god’s favor. For others, works like these are a worshipful response of gratitude for god’s unmerited kindness. Point is, a culture that permits and encourages voluntary discussions about people’s personal “why” enables rich and meaningful connections. It affirms people.

I shared some insights from diverse leaders at SAP, PayPal and Dell, on why faith-based employee resource groups matter. In our 2021 conference, they said, it’s “Because my colleagues’ beliefs matter to me.” They said this included:

  • — Becoming “visible” to one another; learning what colleagues consider their core identity
  • — Dispelling myths and defusing fears about various faiths
  • — Promoting authenticity
  • — Learning of various faith-rooted holidays, festivals and commemorative times
  • — Engaging other worldviews
  • — Strengthening mutual respect, without compromising their own faith
  • — Transcending polarization
  • — Becoming better colleagues and better friends
  • — NOT feeling weird

Even in these polarizing times, authentic, heart-level connection is possible. It’s happening in companies. This is wonderful, encouraging news. The more we connect with the growing number of companies that embrace religious diversity, the more encouraged we are.

My prayer is that many of you will join us in shining a light on these “best practices” that enrich cultures. If your company has done work in religious diversity, we want to celebrate you. The survey described at this link will help focus on best practices. Please have your company fill it out; and perhaps your company will be recognized in 2022 as one of the leaders. In any case, your involvement will reflect well on your company and will be an encouragement to others.

This is good work.