Despite an increase in lawsuits related to religious expression and workplace discrimination, religious diversity is an area of Diversity & Inclusion often missing from leadership development. The silence is due to lack of exposure and to fear, perhaps well-founded, that religious diversity training may actually increase animosity in the workplace, rather than build bridges. Given the recent Supreme Court ruling sanctioning public prayer as an American tradition, a tradition that has often been Christian, the role of diverse religions in the US is increasingly murky and contentious.
This headline makes for eye-catching copy, does it not? Now, if I said that these are the actual words that accompany the email signature of a person in the U.S. who communicates, often globally, to members of his organization, would you believe me? Well, that’s the truth. I kid you not.
One of the many benefits I enjoy from writing this column is that I get to stir stuff up from up here on my, shall we say, “perch.”From here, I get to rant and rave, sprinkle dashes of the uncomfortable into conventional wisdom and comfort zones, take folks dangerously close to the edge, leave them suspended Wile E. Coyote-like midair, then lasso them in before they plunge over the cliff into the “diversity dangers” that may lurk below. From here, I also get to do some vigorous backpedaling, or source attribution when I need to pass the buck if things get a tad too hot or have the potential to backfire on me.
One of the richest adventures I’ve had in my adult life was the cultural encounters working as a resident chaplain in an urban setting. I worked for two years for a major hospital system in Houston, Texas. This hospital system had a mission statement of serving its diverse community and offering appropriate pastoral care. What I came to understand from this work experience was the incredible ethnic diversity as well as the religious diversity represented by patients in the hospital. I learned this as I made my rounds through the ER, ICU, Ambulatory Care, and other surgical units.
The night atmosphere is alive with colour and sound. Vibrant costumes adorn humble people as they dance to ward of evil spirits. Bright fires cast a warm glow; the balmy warmth of incense caresses the air. Our spirits soar. This is a traditional Buddhist festival in Nepal. Contrast this with another scenario I experienced: Before we alight the bus in Beijing we are told not to ask questions. We are told not to mention anything political. We giggle and laugh, every one of us thinks it’s a joke. But our guide tells us again firmly, he is 100% serious. We could get arrested and thrown in prison and that is no laughing matter.
We’re all fed up with the reported incidents of bullying that have been dominating the headlines lately. And we have every right to be. I just hope that we’ve reserved a portion of our dismay for the workplace bullies who may lurk in our midst wreaking havoc on folks in the next cubicle, lab or conference room, or yelling, screaming and cussing on the other end of the phone, or from another culture. And well we should because bullying is anathema to who we say we are from the duality of respectful and ethical behavior.
Still not convinced?