Encounter does much work to promote religious inclusion in workplaces. While there is no shortage of information about how to be an ally at work, as with many conversations around equity and inclusion, religion is often left out of the conversation. As a result, many of us aren’t sure what, exactly, we can do to be an ally for people from various religions. We have a few suggestions.
Educate yourself so you can recognize opportunities to offer support.
Our Welcoming Workplace guides are a great place to start but don’t be afraid to go straight to the source. If you have a good relationship with colleagues, you might open a conversation with “what do you wish I and others understood about what it’s like to be a Muslim in the workplace?”
Support and amplify the voices, ideas and projects of your colleagues who practice different religions.
In an alarming study, 39% of religious minorities stated that they are reluctant to speak up at work. That number was higher than the study’s results for women or racial minorities. Allies can create opportunities for colleagues to speak up and share ideas by publicly asking for and valuing their input.
Advocate for equitable approaches to time off for religious holidays
If you organization doesn’t already offer some sort of equitable religious holiday program, this may be something they should consider. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to this challenge as it will be influenced by the organization’s size, type of work and the demographics of its teams. But if you haven’t had this conversation internally, now is a great time to start.
Create a culture that is supportive of multiple religions.
Sometimes a little bit of awareness can create a big cultural shift. As an organization consider:
- Flexible deadlines around holy days for all faiths.
- Implement inclusive scheduling practices across your team or organization.
- Including information in company newsletters about upcoming religious observances and the company’s goals for inclusion – i.e., please do not schedule lunch meetings during Ramadan.
Practice ways to gracefully interrupt your own bias and that of others.
Our own first thought may reflect ingrained bias rather than who we want to be. Recognizing our own biases and learning to rethink those automatic responses is the best way to counteract them. The same is true for others. One way to interrupt may be by asking “Why do you say that?” Or “Can you explain what you mean by that?” Alternately saying simply “That’s not how we operate here.” sends a clear message to everyone that respect and inclusivity is your organization’s priority.
We are all learning all the time and when we know better, we can do better.
Offer non-judgemental information where possible. You might say something like “I’ve recently learned that the correct pronunciation is ‘sic’ not ‘seek’ when referring to the Sikh faith. It was new information for me and so I thought I would share.”
Recognize the toll that ongoing hate, antisemitism, and anti-Islamophobia takes on our colleagues and offer support.
Unfortunately, there continues to be increasing hate crimes directed at religious minorities. If a major event happens, check in with colleagues and see what support they need. They might welcome the opportunity to talk or permission to skip a meeting or take a mental health day.
Even if there are not news stories from your community, smaller microaggressions and the feeling of being generally unsafe can be exhausting. Being aware of what colleagues are facing is an important part of being an ally.
Being an ally is about more than just offering a kind word of support. It’s an ongoing process of learning. It also requires a commitment to understanding the ways that bias, discrimination, and even hate impact our colleagues and then doing all we can to interrupt or dismantle unfair and unequitable systems. But a kind word is often a great place to start.