In today’s globalized world, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have become more than just buzzwords. They are strategic imperatives that can drive innovation, foster creativity, and enhance organizational performance. However, many companies are still struggling to move beyond compliance and truly embed DEI into their business strategies and operations. This article explores how companies can become more strategic about DEI, with a particular focus on an often-overlooked aspect of diversity: religious identity.
The Strategic Imperative of DEI
In the past, many companies treated DEI as a standalone program, separate from their core business operations. However, leading organizations are now recognizing that DEI needs to be integrated into their strategy and operations. This means measuring DEI outcomes, holding leaders accountable for progress, and tailoring DEI initiatives to the specific needs and context of the organization. It also means investing in building capabilities and changing mindsets to support DEI.
But what does it mean to be strategic about DEI? It means understanding that DEI is not just about doing the right thing or complying with the law. It’s about leveraging the diverse talents, perspectives, and experiences of all employees to drive business performance and innovation. It’s about creating an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued, respected, and able to contribute their best. And it’s about ensuring equity, so that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.
The Five Stages of DEI Maturity
As companies become more strategic about DEI, they tend to progress through five stages of DEI maturity: inactive, reactive, proactive, strategic, and generative.
In the inactive stage, companies do little or nothing about DEI. They may not see the value of DEI or may not know where to start. In the reactive stage, companies respond to external pressures, such as legal requirements or public criticism. They may implement DEI initiatives to avoid negative consequences, but these initiatives are often ad hoc and not integrated into the company’s strategy.
In the proactive stage, companies start to see DEI as a source of competitive advantage. They recognize that diverse and inclusive teams are more innovative, more effective, and better able to understand and serve diverse customers. They start to take proactive steps to promote DEI, such as recruiting diverse talent, providing diversity training, and setting up employee resource groups.
In the strategic stage, companies integrate DEI into their business strategy. They see DEI as a strategic imperative that is essential to their success. They set clear DEI goals, measure their progress, and hold leaders accountable for results. They also start to align their DEI efforts with their business objectives, such as improving customer service, increasing innovation, or expanding into new markets.
In the generative stage, companies see DEI as a source of innovation and growth and embed it into all aspects of their business. They leverage DEI to generate new ideas, new products, and new business opportunities. They also create an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued, respected, and able to contribute their best.
The goal for every company should be to progress to the generative stage, but this requires a long-term commitment and a willingness to challenge the status quo. It also requires strong leadership, as leaders play a crucial role in driving DEI and setting the tone for the rest of the organization.
The Role of Religious Diversity in DEI
One aspect of diversity that is often overlooked in DEI strategies is religious identity. Many companies avoid acknowledging religious differences atwork due to fear of legal risk. However, this is short-sighted. People’s religious identity is a form of diversity, and therefore, religion must be part of any company’s DEI strategy.
Companies should change their mindset from “religion is a risk” to “religion is an asset”. This means openly acknowledging and engaging religious diversity as an asset that can strengthen team cohesion and improve performance. It also means articulating clear guidelines for engaging religious diversity inside the company and developing religious literacy among employees.
Religion is a deeply personal and important aspect of many people’s lives. It shapes their values, their worldview, and their interactions with others. By acknowledging and respecting religious diversity, companies can create a more inclusive and respectful workplace where everyone feels valued and able to bring their whole selves to work.
Best Practices for Engaging Religious Diversity
Here are some best practices for positively engaging with and benefiting from religious diversity in the workplace:
- Know the Law: Understanding the legal aspects of religious diversity is crucial. Companies are responsible, under the law, for equipping team members with the skills to effectively recognize and accommodate religious identity in the workplace. This includes understanding the legal requirements for religious accommodation and non-discrimination, as well as the potential legal risks of not properly managing religious diversity.
- Provide Meaningful and Flexible Accommodations: Companies should provide meaningful and flexible accommodations for employees’ diverse religious practices. This could include offering floating holidays, accommodating dietary restrictions, and providing designated prayer or meditation spaces in the office. By providing these accommodations, companies can show respect for their employees’ religious beliefs and practices, and can help to create a more inclusive and respectful workplace.
- Offer Ongoing Religious Diversity Skill-Building Opportunities: Companies should offer ongoing opportunities for all employees to develop their skills and knowledge to engage religious diversity effectively. This could include providing training on religious diversity, creating opportunities for interfaith dialogue and understanding, and providing resources to help employees learn about different religions.
- Support Interfaith Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Interfaith ERGs can play a crucial role in creating an inclusive workplace culture. They can provide a supportive community for employees of different faiths, can promote understanding and respect for religious diversity, and can serve as a resource for the company on issues related to religious diversity.
Harnessing the Power of Religious Diversity
Companies that openly acknowledge and engage religious diversity can reap numerous benefits. For one, they can prevent crises that might arise from misunderstandings or conflicts related to religious differences. They can also broaden their brand loyalty by showing respect and understanding for diverse religious beliefs and practices. Furthermore, they can strengthen their company culture by fostering an environment of inclusion and respect for all employees, regardless of their religious beliefs.
For instance, Accenture, a leading global professional services company, has been recognized as the number one Global 500 “faith and belief friendly company,” according to the 2023 Religious Equity Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Index. Accenture offers inclusive holiday policies and religious literacy training, among other hallmarks, demonstrating the power of engaging religious diversity.
Creating a Framework for Engaging Religious Diversity
To effectively engage religious diversity, companies should create a clear framework that links to existing company values, underscores the positive contributions of religious identity and diversity, and establishes guardrails to ensure equal treatment across diverse groups. This framework should also encourage opportunities for collaboration across religious, spiritual, and secular identities and provide resources for employees to deepen their knowledge of diverse religious traditions.
The Impact of Religious Literacy and Inclusion
Companies can grow their businesses by cultivating an eye for issues related to religious expression. Recognizing the needs of a particular religious community can serve to elevate a brand and build loyalty among a subset of customers. For example, Nike developed itsVictory Swim Collection after noticing a market for modest swimwear for Muslim women, generating millions in revenue as a result.
Moreover, neglecting to recognize religious expression at work can lead to legal consequences. Companies are responsible, under the law, for equipping team members with the skills to effectively recognize and accommodate religious identity in the workplace.
The Role of Leadership in Promoting DEI and Religious Diversity
Leaders play a crucial role in promoting DEI and religious diversity. They set the tone for the rest of the organization and have the power to drive change. Leaders should model inclusive behavior, challenge bias and discrimination, and promote a culture of respect and inclusion.
Leaders should also hold themselves and others accountable for promoting DEI and religious diversity. This could include setting clear DEI goals, measuring progress, and holding leaders accountable for results. It could also include integrating DEI and religious diversity into performance evaluations and promotion decisions.
In conclusion, it’s time for companies to get strategic about DEI and to include religious diversity in their DEI strategies. By doing so, they can prevent crises, broaden brand loyalty, strengthen company culture, and increase team cohesion and effectiveness. The journey towards DEI maturity is a long one, but with commitment, understanding, and strategic planning, companies can harness the power of diversity, equity, and inclusion to drive innovation, growth, and success.