Faith, Work, and Sacred Place: How Some FORTUNE 500 Companies Support Religious Affinity Groups
by Susan Welch, Hewitt Research –
HR Magazine reports that according to the 2008 publication, Religion and Corporate Culture, 64% of U.S. corporations describe their employees as religiously diverse. So, asks David Miller, director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative, how can businesses where the subject of religion remains off limits say they stand for diversity and inclusion?
Bucking conventional wisdom that discussing religion breeds division, a number of high-profile companies are encouraging the discussion–and finding that extending diversity and inclusion efforts to religious identity is good for employee morale and, ultimately, for business.
Consider American Express. In DiversityInc magazine, AmEx Chief Diversity Officer Kerrie Peraino claims that the company’s three faith-based employee networks have “provided a very productive outlet for employees to fully engage at work, to learn more about themselves and each other and to build bridges to understanding.” The result? Peraino says that allowing employees to bring their whole selves to work enables American Express to retain talent and strengthen relationships with customers. “We educate the American Express employee population on religious issues that help make them culturally sensitive in their jobs,” explains a member of CHAI, the Jewish Employee Network, “whether it be times to avoid critical client meetings, appropriate greetings or helping to determine the timing of communication to customers and partners.”
Texas Instruments senior attorney Kent Johnson sees benefits for inhouse teamwork. “Deep trust is stifled in an environment where believers’ core identities are off-limits for discussion,” he notes in a DiversityWealthinterview. “The relationships of mutual trust that we forge at work with people who are ‘not like us’ carry great promise. Meaningful trust is made possible in an environment like TI’s, which does not just tolerate faith, but welcomes it.”
The forms that religious inclusion efforts take vary across companies. Whereas American Express supports separate Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith networks who collaborate on a regular basis, Ford Motor Company sponsors the Ford Interfaith Network (FIN), one of eight recognized affiliate groups who can use facilities for after hours meetings and communicate through newsletters. It is led by a board with representatives from all of the participants’ faiths.
Johnson and others predict that the trend of companies recognizing religious identity will continue to increase. “For many people, it’s their religious conviction, more than any other factor, which defines their core identity and their reason for living and working. It is counterproductive to insist, in effect, that talented religious people must conceal the single characteristic of their lives which, to them, means the most. For them, faith is profoundly relevant to the workplace.”