Establishing a Successful Faith-Based ERG
Washington DC May. 24, 2022: This panel was organized by Equinix at Dare to Overcome, the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s annual faith@work conference held in partnership with the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America.
Summary of panel discussion by Alessio Atria & Melissa Grim
Constructing a successful faith-based employee resource group is not always easy. In this panel discussion, faith-based employee resource groups leaders offer guidance by sharing how they structured their groups, the challenges that they faced, the value these groups offered their organizations, and their accomplishments.
This panel’s moderator was Marsie Sweetland, founder of Equinix’s FaithConnect employee resource group. Its panelists were Naomi Kraus, founding member and global chair of Google’s Inter Belief Network, Michael Roberts, global president of Faithforce, Tariq Nagpurwala, co-lead for the Interfaith@Meta employee resource group, and Craig Carter, leader of Intel’s Christian employee resource group. (Saqib Sheikh, founding member of the Interfaith at Amazon employee resource group, was scheduled to participate but was unable).
Marsie Sweetland opened the panel with a discussion of how, when she first started a faith ERG, lacking a roadmap, she had no idea what to do. When she established FaithConnect she was helped by leaders of existing faith ERGs like Faithforce. She decided to create this panel to give back and help others who are looking to start a new faith-based ERG. The panelists each explain how they initially established their faith ERGs, how they were structured, the challenges each group faced, the value to the organization that they provided, and the wins that they have had. Each of these companies and ERGs have very different structures, yet all have found success. Read more about FaithConnect.
At Google, most of the ERG chapters have existed for some quite time. For instance, the Jewglers predate Naomi Kraus’ existence at Google. These groups were informal, such as email groups for information, i.e., “where can I go find Kosher food.” Up until 5 years ago, Google had a policy that religious ERGs could not exist, and the reason for the change came down to cheesecake. Naomi Kraus went to the head of the New York chapter to celebrate a Jewish religious holiday and requested cheesecake but was denied because they lacked official recognition. As Naomi described it, “Google brought us together because they were trying to keep us apart. Different faiths came together and demanded that they wanted an ERG with official recognition. Finally given permission to have an umbrella ERG, the Inter Belief Network (IBN), which was not as traumatic as people thought it would be.”
Google’s Inter Belief Network (IBN) hosts events where all chapters come together to exchange information about religious practices and educational experiences as well as meeting separately by faith tradition. See more about IBN.
At Salesforce, Michael Roberts had lunch with a colleague in New Zealand that remarked “It’s ridiculous that I can be an out gay man at work, but you feel like you have to hide that you are a Christian… It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.” FaithForce started through an allyship from a gay man, who has actually been hurt by religious people in his past, and a Christian. He pushed Michael to ask at a town hall with Salesforce’ Chief Equality officer, “Equality is one of our Key 5 Values, what does it look like for people of faith to be included in our Equality?” There were challenges involved, and discussions with the legal department are also necessary, but from there Faithforce came to be!
An example of a Salesforce’s Faithforce program is called Duos where members are partnered up with someone of a different faith for four weeks during which they share their life and faith with each other. The questions become more personal as employees are asked to acknowledge things they agree and disagree with and thus try to find common ground with their partner. Duos has helped Faithforce build community and foster relationships. See more about Faithforce.
Tariq Nagpurwala described how at Meta, previously Facebook, they have a very grassroots culture – Faith communities are no exception to that. Every faith created its own faith group. One question of efficiency came down to if Meta can provide food on campus why not space for prayer? The need was there across other faith groups. A few started making the business case for a religious prayer room. Kind of a “no brainier” given that our mission is to build community and bring the world closer together Tariq states. Their first executive sponsor was VP of legal, so that made the process of formalization process go smoothly. This is the first workplace where Tariq can represent as Muslim and practice prayer on Fridays from his workplace.
Meta advocated for getting a space where employees of different faiths can practice prayers on campus while also making room for mindfulness, meditation practices, Bible study, and sermons. In making this space, Meta could create an interfaith community room anyone can use. By making other faiths feel included, over 8,000 people have joined Meta’s community memberships and they have about 35 to 40 different regional subgroups and chapters worldwide.
There is a program in Meta where candidates, while going through the interview process, have the option to talk to someone at Meta associated with an interfaith employee resource group, thus giving candidates a sense of what the company is like as well as showcasing the inclusive aspect of Meta.
Craig Carter had been with Intel for 25 years. Twenty-seven years ago, Intel was kicking off the employee resource groups. They included a variety of identities including a women’s group and an LGBT group. At the time, they included a Christian group as well. Since then it has grown to include the world major faiths and beliefs, as well as a Baha’i group! Even though it’s a small religious group, the rationale is that it is HR’s job is to protect minority groups. Craig says that three years ago, God spoke to him on a Wednesday while he was doing email. God said start connecting with all the faith groups, and then he said start with the Atheist groups. Of course Craig reports that he chose to ignore this message until the weekend, when the “fear of God” was put into him, and so he reached out to the Atheist group which then led to eventual conversations with other faith groups such as the Muslim group. From there, they went on to form the cross-faith alliance.
Intel has facilities in about 50 different countries, and these faith employee resource groups are welcome there too. Most of the Christian employees working in international locations, for example, have never heard of employee resource groups. Intel’s Human Resources gives members of the faith ERGs advice on how to get to know people from these countries and encourage membership, helping Intel be even more inclusive and gain diverse employees worldwide. See more about Intel’s faith-and-belief ERGs.