Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Corporations Are Embracing Religious Diversity

Faith-based cooperation in the workplace might provide a model to unite a divided nation.

A recent Pew Foundation report reveals the supposed death of religion has been much exaggerated. As a result, companies are waking up to the need to include religious faith as part of their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies.

Despite declining church membership in Europe and the U.S., a study by the Pew Foundation projected that “atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.” Corporations are taking notice.

On May 23, the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation (RFBF) published their third Corporate Religious Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Index, which surveys Fortune 500 companies’ commitments to religious inclusion in the workplace.

Increasingly, companies are “allowing employees to bring their whole souls to work,” RFBF President Brian Grim said. “They want people to know that their faith and belief matters. This gives people of faith an official voice within the company.”

According to this year’s REDI Index, American Airlines is “the most faith friendly corporate workplace” among the Fortune 500. Other companies in the top ten are Intel, Dell, PayPal, Texas Instruments, Equinix, Target, Tyson Foods, AIG, and Google. The ratings reflected both publicly available information and the results of a survey submitted by companies.

The report noted that 202 companies, or 40 percent of those surveyed, include religion as a component of their diversity initiatives. Some go further, with 37 offering faith-oriented employee resource groups (ERGs). Other faith-based benefits offered by companies include in-office chaplains or other forms of spiritual care, matching employees’ faith-based donations, and instituting procedures for requesting religious accommodations or reporting religious discrimination in the workplace.

While it may be surprising that many tech companies, which have a reputation for California-style progressivism, featured prominently in a faith-based index, Grim explained that tech companies often hire workers from religious countries.

“India is probably one of the most religious countries in the world,” Grim said. “If you go to Africa, you can’t walk down the street without religion being everywhere. You go to the Middle East and religion defines the whole culture.”

Even in Japan and China, he said, a large percentage of the population considers itself religious. And global trends indicate that the proportion of people who are religious is growing and will continue to grow.

According to a Pew Research report titled “The Future of World Religions,” Christianity is the most practiced religion in the world. Islam is the fastest-growing. Hindu and Jewish populations are predicted to continue growing, while the Buddhist population is predicted to hold steady. Forty percent of the world’s Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa within the next three decades, the report predicts, and India will be home to the largest Muslim population in the world despite Hindus remaining the majority in that country.

In America, Christians are projected to proportionally decline from three-quarters of the population to two-thirds by 2050. Muslims are projected to replace Jews as the second-largest religion in the U.S. In Europe, Muslims are projected to increase to 10 percent of the population. Atheists and the unaffiliated are projected to decline from 16.4 percent of the world’s population to 13.2 percent.

Much of these trends can be explained by birth rates, age demographics, and migration. The world’s faithful are, on average, younger and have more kids: 2.59 children per religious woman versus 1.65 per atheist. Slowly but steadily, companies appear to be recognizing that they must accommodate these trends.

“It’s not that they’re trying to replicate church,” Grim said. Rather, they are “looking for ways to build conditions where people of different faiths share that same value of standing up for each other’s freedom to believe and behave according to their deeply held beliefs.”

Establishing corporate-sanctioned faith-based ERGs allows people within the company to come together, have prayer groups, share ideas, establish charities and causes, sponsor events, and mix with other religious groups. Intel, for example, reported having eight faith-based groups, including groups for Baha’i, Bible-based Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and atheists. They also have an “Alliance Group” composed of leaders from each internal faith-based organization.

Tyson Foods makes chaplains from various religions available to employees every day, year-round. Texas Instruments provides Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim counseling to employees. American Airlines said it sponsors “Abrahams Tents Events,” where speakers, including three of their senior VPs, have discussed their faith and promoted “understanding and respect for everyone’s faiths and beliefs,” as well as ERGs for different religions.

Another advantage of corporate recognition of employees’ faith is that employees’ beliefs often reflect those of customers and clients, Grim said. Considering the views of diverse groups of religious employees gives companies a better understanding of what they’re getting into when they take up political issues and is “a way for companies to avoid getting themselves into sticky messes.”

“What I’m seeing in corporate America is a beautiful model for how our country and society could work,” Grim said. “I think this model is transferable, and part of that includes a shared national purpose. They all work together and it doesn’t divide them, and that’s how our country should be, too. My hope is that America can come back to that.”

Kevin Stocklin is a writer, film director, and founder of Second Act Films, an independent production house specializing in educational media and feature films. Previously, he worked in international banking for more than a decade.