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A Primer on Creating an Inclusive Workplace

A Primer on Creating an Inclusive Workplace
In the current labor market, employees are increasingly concerned with being able to present their full self at work. Often, this involves attributes that would fall under discrimination laws. Specifically, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws make it illegal to discriminate against people of diverse backgrounds. Whether these issues come up through the candidate asking questions during the interviewing and hiring process or more organically through daily working together, what steps can you take to create or improve an inclusive environment where people with varying cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs can feel understood, accepted, and embraced?
I’d like to share my perspective as a talent recruiting partner with a nationwide recruiting firm on how to foster meaningful inclusivity in one key area, religious beliefs and practices.

Why inclusion is important  

Here’s just one example of inclusion in the workplace and why it matters. Many religious holidays and festivals occur throughout the spring, such as Lent, Easter, Ramadan, Purim, Passover, Holi, and others. Some of these annual observances require fasting or other religious duties that may be evident during work hours and noticed by other employees and team members.
When we foster company cultures where religious faith can be openly expressed without judgment, repercussion, or discrimination, we create environments where people can feel comfortable in carrying out the practices of their faith.
It’s important to recognize that religious discrimination is not only illegal under federal and state laws, meaning that hiring and other employment decision-making cannot be based on someone’s religious faith – but employers are also required by the Civil Rights Act to provide reasonable religious accommodations to employees at work to allow them to practice their faith.
With these employee dynamics and legal requisites in mind, I would like to share answers to the questions noted above, along with ideas on how to create an inclusive work environment for people of different religious backgrounds. These include great examples of inclusion in the workplace.

Best practices for interviews and creating an inclusive culture

1. Don’t ask – but don’t be afraid of the conversation

Different people have different levels of comfort in sharing their religious beliefs. Some are very private; others not so much. It’s essential to not directly ask someone about their religious beliefs or practices; however, when they share this part of themselves with you, it is fully appropriate to engage in the conversation and ask questions in the spirit of understanding.  

2. Seek to understand, not to judge

I had a minister who used to say, “You don’t have to do my thing to be my friend.” When it comes to religious-oriented conversations in the talent acquisition realm, I think that’s an appropriate attitude. It’s one that projects, “I’m not seeking to change your opinion or judge what you believe. I am simply seeking to understand who you are and what matters to you.”  I’ve never had anyone become upset or offended with me when I asked questions about the things that matter to them.  

3. Be conscious of company events involving food and beverages

Food and drink can quickly become an issue that isolates employees whose religious beliefs aren’t shared by most others. My wife and I recently dined with new friends from a different religious background, and it took time to find a venue that accommodated their specific rules around diet. Many restaurants simply don’t provide food that would have been appropriate for them. Since the same thing happens with workplace gatherings and events, it’s important to periodically plan events that do not revolve around food and beverage – but when they do, ensure that menu items and particularly ingredients are clearly labeled. Not only will this allow employees to stay true to their convictions, it will also be helpful for those with allergies. Also, consider including non-alcoholic beverage alternatives as many faiths discourage alcohol consumption.  

4. Be conscious of religious holidays

Few U.S. companies schedule meetings on Christmas, as we’re clearly aware of the significance of this date to employees at large. Make a point to show the same consideration to employees of other faiths. When scheduling project timelines, meetings, and important events, ensure they don’t conflict with other major religious holidays – particularly if you have team members of a particular faith. While you likely can’t plan around all these occasions, be aware of the ones that will directly impact people on your team. This goes a long way in making them feel recognized and included. Floating holidays and flexible scheduling options are also fantastic ways to accommodate religious observances for members of your team.  

5. Review your company dress code

Many religious faiths have certain grooming or attire standards that can conflict with company dress codes. Eliminating these requirements – or ensuring you have a clear and consistent process for employees to receive needed accommodations – also goes a long way in making employees feel they won’t pay a price for being their authentic selves. Everyone wants to feel a sense of belonging.

6. Offer a private, quiet space

Making a private, quiet space available to employees is a game changer, and for multiple reasons and employee groups! This versatile accommodation provides those who need to pray at specific times of day a safe space to do so. At the same time, a designated quiet space also promotes mental health for employees who may be neurodivergent and need a place to step away for a short time. And it can also accommodate nursing mothers who may need to pump during the workday. 

Make a difference in your hiring success and company culture    

While implementing all these workplace inclusion initiatives may not be possible, any step toward a more inclusive workplace and company culture is a step in the right direction – not only for highly accomplished job candidates of varying religious backgrounds but also for your employees in general. Mutual understanding, appreciation, and respect increase employee engagement and the overall employee experience.
Please connect with me for more in-depth insights into this important area of talent acquisition and retention. I am a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)-certified senior talent recruiting partner with Goodwin Recruiting, and DEI is one of our core values. As a specialist in executive, professional services, hospitality, and nonprofit talent recruitment, I can also connect you with exceptional talent for your most important roles.