How to create an inclusive workplace for religion

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Religious inclusion in the workplace, particularly in secular societies, can be overlooked more easily than you might think. Not preventing a person being of practicing faith at work, doesn’t mean you’re inclusive of all faiths. Instead, we need to think more proactively; ‘how do I incorporate religion into the workplace?’.

As an employer you have a duty and responsibility to actively prevent discrimination based on religion. Your role as an employer is to assess and remove possible risks of indirect discrimination, and support employees of any faith.

In this post we will look at ways in which employers can seek to improve religious and cultural awareness to help prevent religious discrimination or misunderstandings, as well as some ideas on what you can do to actively celebrate employees faith at work.

How to create an inclusive workplace for religion

You need to be proactive in your efforts to build an inclusive culture for religion. With 19% of employees having been told by current or previous bosses not to discuss religion at work, it’s reasonable to expect that the needs of your religious employees might not be communicated to you. Look for opportunities to ensure that people of any religion are able to succeed at work.

Supporting employees of different faiths

So how can organisations create an inclusive culture and help employees of different faiths feel safe to be who they are at work?

Education and awareness

  • Develop your understanding that religion can be a defining aspect of some people’s identities that shapes their behaviour, values and mindset
  • Know that all religions are protected by the Equality Act 2010. Christianity may be the majority religion in many Western countries but Christians can still be discriminated against

Policies and ways of working

  • Revise dress codes so that they accommodate people of different religions and faiths
  • Extend this to include those who grow their hair and facial hair in line with religious customs and wear religious jewellery or accessories
  • Consider allowing all employees to work from home or have flexible working hours, which might be more comfortable for an employee of faith during a religious festival
  • Encourage all employees to take breaks when they need to, including making sure employees of faith who need to pray at certain times of the day feel able to do so
  • Don’t schedule meetings at certain times of the day if you know this clashes with employees’ religious needs
  • Compromise with employees who need time off for religious observance or religious laws.
  • Reconsider your holiday allocation. For example our holiday policy includes an additional 5 days off each year. Instead of closing down for Christmas we allow employees to apply this time whenever best suits them; for many of our team that is around Christmas, but for others those days can be used around religious holidays they recognise, or any other date in the year.

Reasonable adjustments

  • Set aside prayer rooms if possible for those who may require one
  • If your organisation provides meals to employees, do you cater to a diverse workforce?
  • Is language in corporate communication varied and inclusive, acknowledging not just one holiday over the festive season?

Most importantly, communicate with your employees to understand what their needs are. Employees will be much more receptive to sharing their needs if you’re making an active effort to implement some of these changes organically

  • During hiring processes make an effort to understand future employees’ needs and make sure they understand the requirements of the role in case conflicts arise
  • Explore the diversity and intersectionality of your employees by communicating with them directly or with staff networks. For example, not all Muslim women wear traditional Muslim clothing. And while a lot of secular Jews do not celebrate or observe most other Jewish festivals, many will celebrate Passover. Some may have reasons for not doing things and remember they do not have to share these reasons with you

What does good practice look like?

At a Diversity & Inclusion Conference we attended, Openreach told attendees that they offer hijabs as part of their uniform to female employees of Muslim faith. These are safe and secure to wear with their uniforms, including under helmets and can be tucked into trousers to stop them riding up. These are currently being trialled with their Ethnic Diversity Network and new recruits and we think are a great example of practising being an inclusive employer!

Preventing religious discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 regulates direct and indirect discrimination and harassment on the grounds of religion or belief, and victimisation. This also includes non-belief.

Education is key to spreading awareness and acceptance of other people’s differences and faiths:

  • Hold diversity training sessions that focus on religion and belief.
  • Ensure that there is a clear distinction between training, and sessions held by employees to share their knowledge on religion. The latter is a great way of promoting and celebrating inclusion and knowledge, but it is not a viable replacement for investing into implementable learning and development.
  • Compile a list of books, documentaries and websites for your team to read, watch or visit in their own time.
  • Be clear on what a proportionate response to varying levels of ignorance through to discrimination would look like. Look at your policies and organisational values, and consult members of the impacted community to sense check your decisions.
  • Don’t assume that launching a policy is adequate replacement for speaking to people about what unacceptable behaviour looks like. Perpetuating harmful stereotypes around religion can often be done without the awareness of the harm being cause, consistent education is key, policies are there to provide a guideline for change.

Addressing religious discrimination

The reality is, if someone experiences religious discrimination at work, it’ll likely go unreported.

Fear of repercussion, fear of not being believed, fear of being labelled a trouble maker are all reasons why people won’t report harassment in the workplace. Creating a speak up culture where people are empowered to inform you when culture-damaging behaviours take place takes time and commitment.

Not every employee will feel able to come forward face to face, so Culture Shift’s anonymous reporting system is a great starting point for organisations who want to develop a speak up culture.

We know it’s the preferred method of reporting by many employees, in fact 62% of employees in our recent survey said they would be much more likely to report an instance of bullying/harassment if their workplace had an anonymous platform to do so.

To find out more about how an anonymous reporting route can help your organisation and employees, especially those from marginalised groups, click here to download our Culture Shifters’ Hand-e-book.

How can we help you?

Reach out to our dedicated team who will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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