Religion and the Diversity Profession – By Rachel Osikoya

In 2008, Rachel Osikoya responded from the United Kingdom (UK) to the question, “Will Religious Diversity increase as a focus for diversity professionals?” She followed up with a 2015 perspective. Read both responses side-by-side…

2008 RESPONSE: I would say that multifaith diversity is already just as important as other elements of diversity. When looking at diversity and inclusion in the UK religion and belief are always a factor. Most large corporates in the UK have multifaith rooms or quiet rooms for prayer and contemplation. There are also a number of independent organisations that are available to help companies understand best practice on how to deal with workplace multifaith issues.

One of the key challenges I have found in my experience is understanding the multifaceted elements of religion, i.e. it is not enough to have one size fits all for each different type of religion. Everyone has varying degrees of faith and belief and varying interpretations of their own religious word. So what might be acceptable to one Christian may not be acceptable to another. Inclusion is key here and one way to enhance inclusion of different religions is through open discussion, I have found out a huge amount through just sitting down and talking to individuals. Some organisations in the UK have multi/faith groups and often host panel discussions or networking events on what it means to be from a specific religion.

Another question is whether religion and belief should be seen as a separate “diversity strand” or whether it should be included as part of any multicultural discussions as often our country or family culture will influence our interpretation of our religion. Often when discussing cultural differences, religion comes up for discussion too and it may be easier for people to discuss this as part of their culture rather than separately.

Policy issues such as dress, food, alcohol, prayer, displaying religious symbols as jewelry have already been raised here in the UK and resolving these issues to support everyone is not an easy task.

The question that is always left being asked is how far can we and should we go to accommodate individuals religious requirements in the workplace?

2015 RESPONSE: Not much has changed in the UK since I wrote this. However, I have had the most amazing experiences in the past 4 years as I spent 3 and a half years in South Africa heading up Inclusion for a multi-national bank and have recently moved to Denmark to work for global transportation and energy company. The most interesting take away or comparison is that religion does not seem to be as much of a diversity issue in the workplace in some of the regions that I had the opportunity to experience than it is in the UK. This may be because there has been a specific focus on religion in the past within the Equality legislation framework.

In Africa, especially South Africa, race is the main focus and religion tends to be celebrated rather than “managed”. Although religion can be aligned to race in some instances. In other African countries where religion has even driven violent conflict, in the workplace it doesn’t seem to be as much of a challenge. Some could say that in some cases where managers hire like for like, there is a high probability that there is no diversity of religion in some teams, which is why it may not be an issue. In Denmark, having only just embarked in my new role here, there is a prayer room in our head office but in general our focus is to build an inclusive culture which focuses more on the individual difference rather than grouping people into boxes and determining what is or is not best for them.

I would also explore the concept of company values. These values almost act as a “belief” system in the workplace. Most companies ask their employees to “live” the values and more often employees’ performance is linked to how well they have “lived” the values. Companies could ask themselves, do our values allow for employees of diverse religions to excel here? Individuals could also ask themselves before joining a company “do the company values align to my personal values”? There is still no easy answer!

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One thought on “Religion and the Diversity Profession – By Rachel Osikoya”

  1. I really enjoyed reading about Rachel’s insight on how religions impact the diversity profession and how her thoughts stayed the same and differed from 2008 to 2015. Religion certainly impacts many areas of our life including our profession. I would love to hear more from Rachel on this topic.

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