Recent years have brought a remarkable change in how workplaces approach the topic of religion. Historically, many employers took the view that people’s religiosity had no place at work or, in some cases, assumed Christianity as normative for everyone. 

This is changing. George Floyd’s death, while not directly about religion, brought an enormous shift in the relationship between employers and employees that carried over to considering people’s religious, spiritual, or secular identities. And more recently, the war in Gaza has greatly heightened people’s awareness and, for many, raised a lot of questions about how to respond. 

Below, let’s track some of these changes and reflect on what has been learned and what we need to do going forward.


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Our Changing Work Environment

George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests raised the issue of unequal treatment and bias in our societies in a way that is arguably unprecedented. Organizations have made many strides since then to take the question of bias seriously. At first, the focus was primarily on race and gender, but it has expanded over time. Religion has arguably been the issue employers have been most reticent to tackle, but this is changing.

This shift has been evidenced by articles in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Harvard Business Review, all within the past 12 months. The pieces vary – some discuss combatting antisemitism or Islamophobia while others report that some employers are hiring chaplains or sponsoring faith-based employee resource groups – but all the articles reflect a new attitude that work environments must be welcoming to people of any religious, spiritual, or secular identity without expecting them to silence or hide this one part of themselves. 


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Our Changing Demographics

The change is also driven by our transforming societies, communities, customer base, and staff makeup. Immigration is dramatically reshaping communities. In Canada, the proportion of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims has all doubled in the past 20 years. Indeed, Canada now has a higher percentage of Sikhs than any country in the world, including India (2.1% in Canada versus 1.7% in India).

There is an accumulating mountain of research that shows incorporating this diversity into your staff pays all sorts of dividends. As examples:

Diversity is happening. How we respond will either hurt or benefit our organizations’ ability to pursue their goals.


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Our Changing World

The conflict in Israel and Gaza has shattered any notion that religion does not matter. In our conversations with partners, many workplaces have found this issue more difficult to tackle than almost any other. And their responses have varied. On one hand, more organizations are reaching out to us than ever before. Conversely, some clients canceled talks on religious diversity, fearing that even the general topic was too sensitive to go near. Other organizations dove in and asked us to come speak about the conflict to their staff explicitly. And others simply felt frozen, unsure how to respond.

Some American Research shows that employees responded best when organizations expressly stated their desire to support all employees and when this message was championed both through official corporate communications and also by individual managers (aligning professed values with personal interactions, both of which matter). If you would like to know more, there is a free resource on our resource page about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that shares the research and provides context and advice that you might find helpful.


Looking Forward

None of us can completely predict the future, but we know a few things: i) our workplaces and societies are more diverse than ever and become more so with each passing year; ii) the younger generations reject the idea that they should hide who they are; and iii) religion will be in the news – this year witnessed the war in the Middle East, student protests, and an international dispute over whether India’s government assassinated a Sikh Canadian citizen but future years will bring issues we cannot foresee that can and will affect your teams and your staff.

Inclusion is right both morally and for your organization’s effectiveness. Fostering a religious inclusive environment is increasingly being recognized as one of the ways to create that sense of belonging. 

If you are unsure how to begin or have begun but are uncertain about the next steps, we are happy to have a conversation. Religious identities are already at your workplace. It’s just a matter of how to ensure everyone belongs. 

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