Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Category Archives: Business For Peace

Workplace Religious Discrimination Encountered by 1-in-3

11 Aug, 2014

36% of Americans — some 50 million people — report experiencing or witnessing workplace religious discrimination, according to a recent Tanenbaum survey, “What American Workers Really Think about Religion.”

Nearly half of non-Christian workers (49%) report experiencing or witnessing religious non-accomodation at work. White evangelical workers (48%) are equally as likely to report experiencing or witnessing religious non-accommodation at work. And two-in-five (40%) atheists also report experiencing or witnessing religious non-accomodation.

The survey notes that when it comes to addressing religion in the workplace, different religious groups have different needs for accommodation. For instance, a non-Christian may care more about the right to display a religious object or the right to pray during the day, while a Christian will be more concerned about attending service on Sunday. The survey found that the most commonly experienced or witnessed forms of religious non-accomadation are being required to work on Sabbath observances or religious holidays (24%) and attending company-sponsored events that did not include kosher, halal or vegetarian options (13%).

Less than half of all workers report that their companies have the following key policies related to religious diversity: 1) flexible work hours to permit religious observance or prayer (44%); 2) materials explaining the company’s policy on religious discrimination (42%); 3) a policy to allow employees to “swap holidays” (21%); and 4) programs to teach employees about religious diversity (14%).

The Tanenbaum survey found that 41% of workers at companies without clear processes for handling employee complaints – including religious discrimination complaints – say they are looking for a new job where they would be happier. This is nearly twice the rate as workers who say their companies do have clear processes (22%). Likewise, 32% of workers at companies without materials explaining the company’s policy on religious discrimination report that they are looking for a new job, significantly higher than workers at companies that offer these materials (25%).

Morale is higher in companies that provide flexible hours for religious observance. In such companies, 13% say that they do not look forward to coming to work, compared with 28% of workers at companies that do not provide this flexibility (13%) – more than a twofold difference.

Tanenbaum concluded from the survey that companies gain a competitive edge by adopting proactive policies of religious accommodation. Doing so makes good business sense, in that it increases employee morale and corporate reputation with regards to employee recruitment and retention.


  • The survey found that one-in-two U.S. workers have contact with people of different beliefs at work.
  • Half of non-Christians say that their employers are ignoring their religious needs.
  • More than half of American workers believe that there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims.
  • Nearly 6-in-10 atheists believe that people look down on their beliefs, as do nearly one-third of white evangelical Protestants and non-Christian religious workers.
  • Regardless of a company’s size, workers whose companies offer education programs about religious diversity and flexibility for religious practice report higher job satisfaction than workers in companies that do not offer such programs.


Tanenbaum’s 2013 Survey of American Workers and Religion was conducted by Public Religion Research LLC among a random sample of 2,024 American adults (age 18 and up) who are currently employed in a part-time or full-time position and who are part of GfK’s Knowledge Panel. Interviews were conducted online in both English and Spanish between March 19 and April 1, 2013. The margin of sampling error is +/- 2.8 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.

Tanenbaum is a secular, non-sectarian nonprofit that promotes mutual respect with practical programs that bridge religious difference and combat prejudice in schools, workplaces, health care settings and areas of armed conflict.

Stay up to date with the Foundation’s Newsletter!

BMW Award, Driving Global Peace and Success

20 Jul, 2014

Melissa E. Grim, Case Studies*

For luxury carmaker BMW, intercultural understanding is more than just a nice sentiment, it’s “an essential part of our daily work,” says Bill McAndrews, the company’s Vice President for Communications. Indeed, since 1997, BMW has been actively promoting cooperative dialogue between different cultures.

One reason for BMW’s emphasis on cross-cultural dialogue and cooperation is the nature of its business. The carmaker may famously be headquartered in Germany, but its business is truly global, with 28 production and assembly facilities in 13 countries and a sales network in more than 140 nations.

The importance of intercultural understanding has led BMW to help found the Intercultural Innovation Award. Created in partnership with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), the award provides financial and other support each year for ten nonprofit organizations that are promoting intercultural dialogue and cooperation around the world.

McAndrews says that the award enables BMW “to highlight some of the wonderful cross-cultural work being done worldwide.” The BMW Group’s commitment to the awardees extends beyond financial support and includes other resources, such as helping winning organizations become part of a global network of organizations working for intercultural and interfaith understanding. McAndrews emphasizes that “this can make the crucial difference in turning an idea into a practice that enriches peoples’ lives.”

Helping Muslim Youth in the Philippines

One recent Intercultural Innovation Award winner is Kapamagogopa (KI), an organization that aims to promote religious understanding in the Philippines, where tensions between the nation’s Muslim minority and its Christian majority have led to violence and other problems. KI mobilizes young Muslims on the island of Mindanao to work as volunteers for non-Muslim organizations. By bringing Muslims into non-Muslim settings, KI aims to combat anti-Muslim bias from the majority Christian population and give young Muslims a sense that they can take positive steps to change to their lives.

KI also provides Muslims experience in working with foreign organizations. For instance, one KI volunteer, Nohman Khalil, worked with Forum ZFD, a German NGO that develops tools for dealing with violent conflicts. Khalil was able to help ZFD’s consultants gain an insider’s understanding of religious tensions in Mindanao. He thinks his greatest contribution was assisting in a project to integrate peace education into teacher training courses.

For Khalil, the job was a challenge. “Apart from it being the first time that I was far from home, my biggest challenge is that I was the only Muslim in the office,” he said, adding: “There were lots of new situations for me to deal with.” However, he considers his time at ZDF a great success. “They have made me feel very welcome,” he says. “I do not feel like a volunteer but like a member of staff.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised KI, stating that the project “is addressing a long history of Muslim-Christian violence by forging communications, job creation, and promoting employment.”

Giving a Voice to the Voiceless in India

Another recipient of the BMW/UN award is the Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, an Indian NGO that has begun a recycling project in New Delhi to promote understanding between the lower caste garbage-pickers and those in the higher castes who produce much of the waste.

Across hundreds of cities in the world – ranging from Rio de Janeiro to Istanbul, and Lahore to New Delhi – tens of millions of waste-pickers spend their days sifting through garbage in the hope of feeding themselves and their families on others’ trash. In urban India, this trash recycling is undertaken by abjectly poor, mostly low caste and marginalized migrants, often at great risk to their own health.

Hoping to bridge the gap between trash-pickers and trash producers, Chintan organizes trash recycling projects in the city’s high-rise offices and encourages the higher caste residents to volunteer at charities that assist the waste-pickers. The idea is to make these largely invisible lower castes visible.

Bharati Chaturvedi, the founder of Chintan, is helping to transform the image of those who work in the Delhi garbage dumps from “waste-pickers” to “environmentalists.” Chintan does this by organizing waste-pickers into teams who approach individuals at train stations with an appeal for them to sign a pledge to stop littering. Perhaps this is a small step, but it is a significant way to make this formerly invisible community more visible and better understood.

Promoting Understanding Through Tourism in the Holy Lands

Another award winner, the Middle East and Justice Development Initiative ( MEJDI Tours ), is bringing Jews and Arabs together through the promotion of tourism. MEJDI runs the ‘Dual Narrative’ tour, which is led by Israeli and Palestinian guides who each offer their own perspectives on culture, politics and religion at each tour location.

The organization is led by Liel Maghan, an Israeli, and Aziz Abu Sarah, a Palestinian. While the two men are now good friends, they understand the challenges many Israelis and Palestinians face, particularly in perceiving and understanding those on the other side. “You say the word ‘soldier’ and an Israeli thinks protection while a Palestinian thinks fear and apprehension,” Sarah said. Only by working together can people on one side begin to understand the other side’s perspective.

* This is the second in a series of case studies highlighting how companies – in their core business activities – can help reduce religious and cultural tensions, increase social understanding, and promote peace. This case study does not imply an endorsement of any company profiled. The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has no tie to any of the companies profiled.

To stay up to date, subscribe to our Newsletter!