LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 08: Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (3R) and his wife Akshata Murty (2R) listen to their guests as they host a reception at 10 Downing Street to celebrate Diwali on November 08, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Kin Cheung – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
UNTIL relatively recently, being a nonbeliever was something that had to be a private issue – people understood their beliefs were unusual, and, if they were to make them known, likely to lead them to being ostracised and punished.
According to the 2021 census, in today’s secular society, when it comes to faith and belief, every group, including non-believers, is now a minority. However, those with a faith now feel there are limits on how they can express themselves and make that aspect of their identity known to others.
It’s worth pointing out that religion is one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act of 2010 and it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their belief. In addition to this, organisations have inclusion strategies and policies which state that they want people to be “authentic” and to “bring their whole self to work”.
In my experience, however, when it comes to religious inclusion, it is rarely discussed. When it does arise, it’s often as a problem (for example, those with a faith wanting to impose restrictions of some kind or another on the LGBTQ+ community). Despite this, though, according to the CIPD more than 90 per cent of organisations believe they are inclusive when it comes to religion.
We wanted to see how true this is: it is one thing for HR departments to say they are inclusive, but how do those with a faith see it?
We carried out what we believe is the largest survey of its kind to examine the experiences of those with a faith and how included they feel. The response to the survey astonished us – with more than 6,000 people participating, 1000 people in each of six religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. This in itself demonstrated that here was a community of people who felt ignored and wanted to have their voices heard.
The research, available from this week, showed that in overall terms, members of all groups, including Christians, had experienced similar issues with regard to religious expression. Where people had been open about expressing their religious identity, there were some positive outcomes, including better awareness and understanding, improved relationships with coworkers and increased well-being.
Negative outcomes included stereotyping and discrimination; being mocked and mistreated; being excluded leading to a sense of isolation.
So, what was the difference between those having a positive experience and those having a negative one?
When working within a diverse organisation with an open and inclusive culture, outcomes were often positive. Within these organisations, relationships between co-workers were improved, people were interested in learning more about their religious beliefs and offered support and encouragement.
When an organisation lacks this sense of inclusion and openness, employees may fear the consequences of expressing their religious beliefs, or face judgement and exclusion if they decide to disclose. And there is clearly a role for leaders, whether you hold a faith or not. It’s means ensuring that when we discuss inclusion, that religious identity is given some time and attention. We can all try to interact and understand colleagues of different faiths.
When a leader engages in a conversation, trying, for example, to understand more about a particular religious festival this will be welcomed by the person they are talking to, but will also be noted by others and more likely to be replicated by them. It is small actions like these which make workplaces more inclusive.
Religious belief is one of the most significant aspects of a person’s identity. Despite being one of the protected characteristics under the legislation, it is something that has been relatively ignored by organisations, even under their inclusion policies and strategies.
In an organisation where religious expression is perceived to be discouraged, employees may feel unable to communicate their needs to their employer.
Despite our appeals for the need to be authentic, and to bring our whole self to work, our research identified that people of all faiths felt like a minority in the workplace – to the extent that many people felt uncomfortable discussing their religious festivals and holidays at work. And only a very small proportion of people with a faith will wear religious clothing or symbols in the workplace and an even smaller number feel comfortable doing so.
It is clear to us that more work needs to be carried out on understanding the experiences of people with a face in the workplace and what they would like to see happen to make organisational culture is more inclusive for them.
The research, published on Tuesday (28), is available from the Pearn Kandola website www.pearnkandola.com