Religious Diversity, Religious Ignorance and the Workplace

Earlier this week, the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life released the results of a survey about “U.S. Religious Knowledge.” A nationally representative sample of 3,412 adults took the 32 question survey earlier this year. Besides general knowledge, the survey inquired about the Bible, Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, world religions including Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, religion in public life, and atheism and agnosticism.

The average number of correctly answered questions was 16 out of 32, or about half of the survey. Although, you may assume that people would know the most about their own religion, this wasn't always the case as respondents frequently incorrectly answered questions about the faith tradition with which they identified. Also, the percentage of respondents who correctly answered questions about world religions averaged about 50%. 

So what does all of this mean in the context of the workplace? Often times, it's considered prudent not to talk about religion at work – part of the "leave it at home" attitude. But, the results of this survey help us see that this attitude might not be wise. For instance, a 2008 SHRM survey found that 64% of organizations surveyed reported some degree of religious/spiritual diversity among their employees. However, a 2006 Catalyst survey found that only 12% of responding companies offered a diversity initiative specifically focusing on religion, and religion continues to be a growing category of EEOC complaints. As the labor force grows increasingly diverse, knowledge and awareness about religious practice are becoming essential to businesses.

When an employee joins a company, they become part of the force helping that company to succeed in its mission and goals. For most companies, part of accomplishing this is ensuring that their employees are comfortable in their work environments. In the increasingly global world, this means we have to begin to examine our own religious lens and increase our knowledge about our employees' faiths and practices.