CHAPTER 4: This is less about representation, more about conversation
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Some areas of diversity and inclusion, like race or sex (as in gender), can present a clear rationale for increasing career progression and representation at a senior level. Regardless of your view on quotas, if an office building contains ten corporations and all their boards are exclusively composed of white men, there’s probably some sort of diversity challenge.


But religion and belief, like sexual orientation, isn’t quite the same. It’s possible that each of those boards might have always included a man with a belief, or who was gay, but who never said so. And that’s the point.


The diversity and inclusion issue relating to religion and belief is primarily about a conversation. Are people comfortable to talk about who they are? Or do they avoid talking about a major part of their identity because it’s just not comfortable to do so in the workplace?


There are a number of similarities here with the LGBT journey of workplace inclusion, especially relating to people feeling able to talk about their lives outside of work.


The ‘Monday morning conversation’ is a case in point. Do people hold something back when chatting about the things they did at the weekend, because they think other people just wouldn’t understand or might feel uncomfortable? If this reservation is based on a fundamental part of the person’s identity, like their belief or their sexuality, then perhaps the workplace culture isn’t as fully inclusive or comfortable as it could be.


Or are people making assumptions about social norms? If conversations in meetings imply that everyone drinks alcohol or is doing a particular social activity on a Friday evening or Sunday morning, perhaps some colleagues feel excluded by those assumptions.


In the same way that many workplace cultures have shifted to recognise that not everyone is in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, so too some of the informal behaviours in a workplace could better reflect the diversity of the beliefs of the people working there.


The first step is to listen to colleagues, to find out what barriers and opportunities affect people’s openness to express their identity at work.


Nine in ten (91%) HR Managers say that their organisation promotes understanding of diversity and inclusion with regards to religion and belief to some extent or to a great extent.


Q: To what extent, if at all, do you feel that your organisation promotes understanding of equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace with regards to each of the following?

Base: All HR Managers (n=251)


Just one third (35%) of HR Managers at companies with 50-249 employees say their organisation promotes understanding of diversity and inclusion with regards to religion and belief to a great extent. This compares to 52% of HR Managers at companies with 1000 employees or more.


While there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, some organisations find that making provision for networks for religion and belief, either as a voluntary lunchtime activity for discussion and mutual support or as a formal consultative body to contribute to organisational development, adds value to the workplace.


A third (33%) of HR Managers say their organisation supports societies, fellowship or networks for religion and belief.


Q: Does your organisation support any societies / fellowships / networks for any of the following issues?


Yes No Don’t know
Disability 46% 33% 21%
Sex (as in gender) 35% 40% 25%
Race 35% 38% 27%
Religion and belief 33% 40% 27%
Age 32% 42% 27%
Sexual orientation 32% 42% 26%
Gender reassignment 26% 45% 29%
Base: All HR Managers (n=251)


The vast majority of HR Managers (92%) say people can talk openly about their personal beliefs or religious traditions. Just 3% say that people are discouraged from talking openly in their workplace.


The picture for workers is more complex. Just a quarter (26%) of employees say that people in their workplace talk about their personal beliefs or religious traditions often or every now and again, while 35% say that people in their workplace never talk about this.  But, consistently with HR Managers, only 2% say they are actively discouraged from doing so.


Q: Which of the following comes closest to how your company approaches people talking about their personal beliefs or religious traditions?

Base: All HR Managers (n=251)

Q: In your workplace, how often do people talk about their personal beliefs or religious traditions? Please choose the answer that is closest to your views.

Base: All employees (n=984), All workers who regularly attend religious services (n=117)


People who say they regularly attend religious services are more likely than average to say that people in their workplace talk about their personal beliefs or religious traditions. Approaching half (48%) of those who attend religious services once a month or more say that people often or every now and again talk about their personal beliefs or religious traditions at work.


The crucial element is to have a conversation which makes room for listening without embarrassment. While many of our findings identify missed opportunities to make provision, we’re also aware of people who try so hard to accommodate religious practice that they misjudge people’s needs.


One of many comments we heard when consulting informally with business leaders and faith communities:


‘I went to a meeting and found they’d provided special food on a separate plate, and created a prayer room just for me. I don’t actually eat halal or use prayer rooms and felt uncomfortable that they’d gone to so much unnecessary effort. Their well-intentioned efforts to try to include me in fact made me feel excluded and very different to everyone else.’


We recommend that employers set up regular listening exercises, using a range of techniques to engage colleagues at varying levels in the workforce.

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