Religious inclusion in the workplace is increasingly important in today’s global and diverse business environment. Contrary to popular belief, religion is not in decline. In fact, the number of people with religious affiliations is increasing. By 2050, there will be 2.3 billion more people on our planet who belong to a religion, compared to only 0.1 billion more people who do not, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s why employers need to make sure they promote a workplace that is religiously inclusive.
In the future, the leading economies will also shift from majority Christian to majority Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and non-believers. The positive development is that the world and its major marketplaces will become not only more religious but also more religiously diverse.
We already know that an inclusive approach is not the right thing to do, but the right move to succeed in business. In fact, leveraging inclusion as a segway to increase diversity in companies is one of the growing DEI trends. Given this trend, it is especially important for companies to be religiously inclusive if they want to attract and retain top talent.
What do we mean by religious inclusion?
Religious inclusion refers to the practice of creating an environment where individuals of all religious backgrounds feel welcome, valued, and respected. It involves acknowledging and accommodating diverse religious beliefs, practices, and traditions in various aspects of society, including education, workplace, and public spaces.
Here are 3 ways you can promote religious inclusion in your workplace:
1. Educate Yourself and Your Employees on Religious Inclusion
The first step to promoting religious diversity and inclusion in the work environment is education and awareness. By ensuring that your employees are aware of their colleagues’ religious differences, you can foster trust and ensure that your employees treat each other with respect – and do not inadvertently offend co-workers with a different religious backgrounds. For example, during these past months of Ramadan, inviting a Muslim to a business lunch can be deemed insensitive.
Another action you can take for general religion literacy and awareness is to hold workshops for employees to educate them about their colleagues’ religions.
2. Respect Religious Holidays and Accommodate Religious Practices
Currently, companies usually celebrate Christian holidays only and look to adjust work schedules to accommodate them. In Portugal that is even more visible since most of these Holidays are national days off. However, non-Christian employees may feel excluded if their religious holidays are not taken into account when planning projects, tasks, and work schedules. To avoid this, flexible holidays and schedules can be implemented to allow people of all religions to take time off for religious celebrations.
Additionally, try to avoid hosting only religion-specific company celebrations. For example, only a Christmas party in December. Replace it with an ‘end of the year party’ or host a dinner to ‘celebrate the past year’s accomplishments’.
Also try to provide quiet spaces where not only religious employees, but all employees can spend some time when they need it. This space can also be used for prayer, but also non-religious employees may want to take some time for themselves sometimes. Keep in mind that you want this space to be inclusive, so avoid religious symbols.
Another good way to accommodate religious practices is to offer options for religious dietary restrictions if your company has a cafeteria. Of course, employees can always bring food from home. However, they will not feel very included if they have to do so because the company cafeteria will only offer foods they can not eat for religious reasons. If you want to keep it simple, offer enough vegan or vegetarian options because most religions only have dietary restrictions on meat and fish. However, if you want to give your employees more variety and choice, try offering kosher or halal-prepared foods as well.
To accommodate all religious practices, you might also need to review your company dress codes. Some organisations have restrictions regarding headwear or facial hair, which makes it hard for people to wear religious attire to their jobs. After all, dress codes are designed to give guidance to employees on how to dress for the level of professionalism of the company and religious attire does not go against this.
3. Encourage Diversity
Let us start with the most important part of this practice: Establish a zero-tolerance rule against discrimination. Let your employees know that their rights regarding discrimination and harassment are protected by the company. Knowing this will help your religious employees feel more secure and integrated into the company. In addition, a zero-tolerance rule also prevents employees who have a negative opinion about a religious orientation from making discriminatory or offensive comments. This also saves your company from a negative brand image and potential lawsuits.
Of course there are many more ways you can promote diversity that goes beyond religion in your workforce. Companies can offer diversity and inclusion training to managers and HR or post DEI statements on job advertisements, in order to attract diverse talent. By implementing these practices, employers are more likely to embrace diversity of all kinds, including religion, while creating a more inclusive environment for employees from diverse backgrounds.
The case of Ramadan
To give you specific examples, and as we approach Eid ul-Fitr (sugar day) let’s take a look at Ramadan – a holy month of fasting, prayer, and spiritual reflection observed by Muslims worldwide that is. It is important to be aware of certain guidelines and customs during this month, especially if you work with Muslim colleagues who are observing the fast. Regarding Ramadan, some of the aspects to keep in mind are:
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until sunset. This means they abstain from food, drinks, alcohol, and other physical needs such as smoking. It is important to respect their fast and not offer them food or drinks during fasting hours. You can also try to provide a space for Muslim employees where they can spend their break outside of the cafeteria or eating area. Employees participating in Ramadan might want to avoid the smell of food or the view of people eating, so having a nice place to enjoy their break that is not surrounded by food is a very good option
2. Time Management
Muslims may need to manage their time differently during Ramadan, especially when it comes to work schedules. They may need to leave work early or come in later to accommodate their fasting schedule. It is important to be flexible and understanding of their needs during this time. This will not only make your employees feel more comfortable and understood during Ramadan but also more productive and motivated.
3. Religious Observances
Ramadan is a time of increased religious observance for Muslims, and they may need to attend prayer services during the day or evening so flexible schedules are extremely important to ensure performance and inclusion for your Muslim employees. It is important to be respectful of their religious practices and not schedule meetings or events that conflict with their observances. Additionally, Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr (Sugar Festival). However, even though most companies provide a paid holiday during Christmas – which is often “useless” for Muslims – they do not do so on Eid al-Fitr but Therefore, companies should implement flexible holidays so all employees can celebrate their religious holidays, and work on other religious holidays that do not apply to them – of course always respecting the national legal frameworks.
4. Workplace accommodations
Employers should be mindful of making reasonable accommodations for Muslim employees during Ramadan, such as providing a quiet space for prayer, and allowing time for breaking the fast.
Promoting religious inclusion in the workforce is essential for companies that want to foster a diverse workplace with motivated and happy employees. By following the practices outlined in this article, you are closer to ensuring your workplace is respectful towards all faiths and beliefs, which will lead to a more productive and successful workplace.