Today is Tanenbaum’s #givebackwednesday!

Download and share our tips for Respectful Communication

Dear Friends,

Yesterday was #givingtuesday. And I’m sure you were bombarded with worthy causes asking for your support. To those of you who gave to make the world a better place—in whatever way you chose to do so—we say thanks.

In honor of what we call #givebackwednesday, I want to share our tips for Respectful Communication. At a time when people are talking about (and worried about) conversations at upcoming holiday dinners, great communication is one of the best gifts you can share—with family, neighbors and colleagues.

Thank you, again, for all you do.

Cheers,

Joyce

P.S. And if you haven’t already, please consider making a donation to Tanenbaum.

The “Holiday Tree”

Credit: Flickr

In a recent speech, President Trump announced: “we’re saying merry Christmas again.” This statement started the yearly conversation about what Tanenbaum calls the “December Dilemma.” Every year, we get questions from clients about different aspects of December Dilemma (the period roughly between Thanksgiving and New Year’s), including decorations, parties, gift exchanges, and greetings. As companies strive to become more inclusive, Christmas poses a challenge: how do you make the holiday season more inclusive without alienating employees who have come to expect and enjoy overt acknowledgements of Christmas?

One trend that I have noticed over the past couple of years is the emergence of the “holiday tree.” Sometimes when we ask a client if their offices are decorated for Christmas, they reply, “No, we don’t have Christmas decorations, just a secular holiday tree in the lobby.” The first time I heard this, I made a note to look up “secular holiday tree” after the call. After talking to my colleagues, I realized that what the client meant was essentially a Christmas tree without religious or overtly Christmas-y (red and green) decorations.

I think the “holiday tree” is a good example of the balance that many companies try to strike during the December Dilemma. Take something that used to be a company tradition, like an office Christmas party, and make it more “secular” by turning it into a “holiday party.” But is a holiday party really any different from a Christmas party if all that has changed is the name?

To me, a holiday tree is a Christmas tree, whether you call it that or not. Is there a difference between a towering Christmas tree with an angel on top and a nativity scene nearby and a smaller Christmas tree with subtle silver decorations? Yes. The former is more closely related to the religious roots of the holiday, while the latter is more in line with a secular celebration and is likely more appropriate for the workplace. But they are both Christmas decorations.

According to Pew, 92% of Americans celebrate Christmas. That means there are plenty of people who celebrate Christmas but don’t necessarily identify as Christian. Additionally, 32% of Americans say that for them, Christmas is more of a cultural holiday (as opposed to a religious one). It follows, then, that it isn’t just Christian employees who would be happy to see Christmas decorations at work. At the same time, there are non-Christian employees (and some Christians, like Seventh Day Adventists) who wouldn’t be so happy. And I am not convinced that having a silver Christmas tree instead of a red and green one makes a big difference for that group. What would be more significant would be decorating, acknowledging, and celebrating diverse holidays. It is okay to acknowledge Christmas, as long as it isn’t the only holiday that is acknowledged throughout the year.

[Click here for more tips on how to handle the December Dilemma]

By Liz Joslin,
Workplace Program Senior Associate, Tanenbaum

Behavior vs. Belief: A Heated Debate

Bernie Sanders | Credit Win McNamee/Getty

Senator Bernie Sanders recently faced criticism for his questioning of Russell Vought during Vought’s confirmation hearing for Deputy Director for the Office of Budget Management. Sanders brought up a blog post in which Vought wrote that Muslims who “have rejected Jesus Christ” stand “condemned”. Sanders called this language “hateful” and said he would vote against Vought’s confirmation. Many leaders from a variety of Christian denominations have responded that Vought’s belief is a core tenant of Christianity, and one shared by many Americans.

Those who thought Sanders’ comments toward Vought were inappropriate, or even unconstitutional, argue that he was imposing a religious test on Vought. Some Muslim advocates have defended Sanders, saying that in the current political climate it’s important to ensure that nominees will treat all Americans fairly. This difference of opinion perhaps stems, not only from the different political or religious ideologies of those who are responding to the encounter, but also in whether they viewed Vought’s beliefs or his behavior as under attack.

One of Tanenbaum’s core principles is that when religious issues emerge in the workplace, employers should  focus on behavior and not belief. Employees are free to believe what they want to believe, and it is not appropriate (or, in many cases, legal) to argue with someone about their deeply held convictions. That said, it is appropriate to have standards for behavior in the workplace, and to require employees to meet those standards. For example, an employee may believe that homosexuality is an abomination, and is entitled to that belief. If, however, the employee starts harassing LGBT colleagues or posting defamatory statements on the company’s intranet page, such behavior would threaten to create a hostile work environment and the company would then be within its rights to discipline that employee.

Similarly, Vought has both a moral and constitutional right to his religious beliefs, including his belief that non-Christians will go to hell. If Sanders was criticizing Vought simply for holding that or any other religious belief, it would be inappropriate. However, Sanders’ office has since stated that he was concerned, not with Vought’s beliefs themselves, but whether the expression of those beliefs would prevent Vought from “carry[ing] out the duties of his office in a way that treats all Americans equally.” That criticism is far more valid because it focuses on what Vought’s behavior would be like if confirmed.

In the future, politicians who are concerned about nominees’ statements on religion should be careful to frame their concerns around the nominee’s behavior, not their beliefs.

By: Eliza Blanchard
Assistant Director, Workplace & Health Care Programs

From Competence to Confidence: Tanenbaum’s 2017 Religious Diversity Leadership Summit

Tanenbaum’s second Religious Diversity Leadership Summit took place on May 23rd at Bloomberg, LP. Over 100 people from more than 35 companies attended the event. In its second year, this event grew 65% in attendance and was twice as long. The Summit was made possible by our generous sponsors: Bloomberg, DTCC, and the Walt Disney Company.

According to our post-event survey, some of the most important takeaways from the event included:

  • “…this summit helped me uncover the fact that religion is often neglected and never discussed yet it’s KEY in bringing our whole selves to work, therefore we should be talking about its impact way more.”
  • “I…was on the fence about interfaith ERG’s, but now I’m sold. I plan to use the notes to start discussion with our team.”
  • “Hearing from leaders who have been successful in implementing religious diversity programs as well as representation from the regulatory agency was a fantastic opportunity.”

We can’t wait to further grow the Summit in 2018!

We’ve Made Our Pledge – 150 CEOs Take Action!

Dear Friends,

Amid the drumbeat of political news, something powerful happened yesterday that I find exciting. Globally, we took a giant step toward justice and respect when the newly formed CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion announced that 150 corporate executives from major companies pledged to work toward more diverse, inclusive and just workplaces. The three initial goals are:

  1. To continue to make workplaces trusting places to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion;
  2. To implement and expand unconscious bias education; and
  3. To share best—and unsuccessful—practices

I am honored to represent Tanenbaum as a signatory on the CEO Action pledge and one of the few organizations of our ilk on the list. As the only secular, non-sectarian not-for-profit with more than two decades of experience helping multi-national companies create inclusive environments for employees of all faiths and none, Tanenbaum is uniquely positioned to offer better practices on this topic—including ones we’ve implemented in our own office. Click here to read about our Holiday Swapping policy, and here for other better practices from the global companies represented.

Religious diversity is part of the larger Diversity & Inclusion conversation, and I trust that Tanenbaum’s involvement in the pledge will inspire more companies to proactively address religious diversity in the workplace. The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion is poised to inspire lasting change in workplaces large and small. And how wonderful is that?

Let’s keep moving the needle toward equity, justice, and respect,

Joyce S. Dubensky
Tanenbaum CEO

The Affordable Care Act and Religion: Impact & Support

As Congress debates if and how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, many people have spoken out on how losing health coverage would affect various disenfranchised communities. Often missing from the conversation has been the relationship between the ACA and religion—and yet many religious communities either benefit directly from the ACA, and would be affected by losing health insurance, or have spoken out in support of the ACA based on their religious beliefs.

The ACA has been beneficial to pastors and other church employees who struggled to find health care coverage prior to the ACA. Christianity Today profiled how small churches often function similarly to small businesses, and face similar struggles around providing affordable health care to their employees. Many churches simply do not include health insurance as part of their compensation package, and small church pastors and other employees have therefore come to rely on insurance through the ACA. Many expressed concern over what they would do if the ACA were repealed.

Similarly, Sojourners has collected and published testimonials from Americans around the country about their experiences with the ACA, and many of the people expressing appreciation for the ACA were religious leaders and their families. These testimonials included ones by a Presbyterian minister who could not find insurance when he returned to the U.S. after nine years of overseas missionary work; the wife of a preacher whose church did not provide insurance coverage for their daughter’s pre-existing condition; and a pastor’s wife who no longer has to choose between buying groceries and going to the doctor. All of these individuals were positively impacted by being able to obtain insurance through the ACA.

There are also religious communities who support the ACA not only because it benefits themselves or their congregations, but because of their religious mission to care for people in need. The ACA has helped the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, and legal non-citizens have greater access to health care than ever before. As a result, representatives from a wide array of religious traditions have spoken out in support of the ACA as a means of continuing to provide insurance to the poor.

A surprising source of support for the ACA has come from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who last month sent a letter to Congress urging them not to repeal the ACA without having a replacement plan. They wrote that “a repeal of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act ought not be undertaken without the concurrent passage of a replacement plan that ensures access to adequate health care for the millions of people who now rely upon it for their wellbeing.” In the past the USCCB has been opposed to the ACA largely because it covers abortion and other reproductive health services and included a mandate requiring insurance to cover contraception. In spite of these earlier objections, the USCCB and other Catholic institutions recognized the importance of continuing to provide health insurance to Americans, particularly those without the resources to get this insurance through other channels.

As the debate over the ACA continues, it is important to remember that repealing the ACA without having a plan to replace it can have serious consequences both for religious communities themselves, and for the values around protecting those in need that are at the foundation of many religions’ missions.

Chobani and the American Dream

6 Tips for Starting a Successful Faith-based ERG

By: Liz Joslin, Workplace Program Associate, Tanenbaum
Published in Diversity Best Practices | August 16, 2016

Faith-based ERGs, once unheard of, are becoming more and more popular among companies on the cutting edge of diversity and inclusion. At Tanenbaum, we have advised many clients at all stages of the process—from deciding if the time is right to establish a faith-based ERG, to inclusive communications, to planning a launch event. Use these five tips as a starting point to creating a successful faith-based ERG at your company.

1. Decide which model is best for your company:
There are three main models for faith-based ERGs: faith-specific, interfaith, and interfaith network. Faith-specific ERGs are created around one particular tradition (ex: American Express has Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups). Interfaith groups are not specific to any one tradition, but are created to recognize a wide array of affiliations (ex: Tanenbaum Corporate Member Merck’s Interfaith Organization). Finally, in an interfaith network model, multiple faith-specific groups are under the umbrella of an interfaith body (ex: Ford Motor Company’s longstanding Interfaith Network). Consider your current ERG structure, what kind of group has been requested, and resources available when deciding which model is the best fit for your company.

2. Solidify the business case:
The rules that apply for ERGs generally apply for faith-based ERGs as well, including having a solid business case. Talk to interested employees to find out how they think the group will benefit the company. Perhaps the group can serve as an internal focus group on religious accommodations the company is considering (such as Quiet Rooms for prayer, meditation, and reflection), or aid the marketing department in reaching different religious communities. There are many ways a faith-based ERG can positively impact the bottom line.

3. Make sure it is inclusive:
No matter what model you choose, your faith-based ERG must be open to employees of all faiths and none. “The nones” (people who are atheist, agnostic, spiritual or not affiliated with a particular religious tradition) are a part of the religious diversity landscape at your company, and must be considered in the creation of a faith-based ERG. Faith-specific ERGs (i.e. a Christian ERG) should also be open to employees from other faiths who are interested in learning more about their colleagues’ beliefs or in participating in an event the ERG is sponsoring, such as a volunteer event at a local soup kitchen.

Another aspect of inclusion worth addressing is the relationship between LGBT inclusion and religion. If you have an existing LGBT ERG, consider asking that group to provide support and guidance in the establishment of the faith-based ERG. This will serve two purposes: the faith-based group will have a mentor group, and the general employee population will see that the two groups are united and working towards the same ultimate goal (inclusion) and are not in opposition.

4. Create a communications strategy:
It may not be immediately clear to employees why the company is putting resources into a faith-based group. Some may feel immediately alienated, or even threatened by the prospect. Your communications strategy will be crucial in conveying the business case, the purpose, and the inclusive nature of the group, while also emphasizing that participating in the group is optional.

5. Seek out strong leaders:
Finding capable employees to take on leadership roles and bringing on an executive sponsor is a crucial part of the creation of any ERG. Finding leaders who are fully aligned with the group’s business case and the company’s values will help to alleviate concerns that employees and senior leaders might have about preferential treatment within the group. An executive sponsor who can be a champion for the group and speak to the inclusive nature of the ERG can also make a positive impact in how the group is viewed within the company.

6. Generate interest through a launch event:
A launch event is a great way to attract members to a new group. The event can be an extension of your communications strategy and showcase the diversity within the group, as well as highlighting the ways in which the group plans to have a positive impact on the business. Having a senior leader (the executive sponsor or another interested party) at the event to give an endorsement can also demonstrate that the company is fully behind the group.

Tanenbaum’s 2016 Religious Diversity Leadership Summit

On Monday, May 23rd, representatives from over 30 companies came together at Gotham Hall in New York City to discuss global strategies for addressing religious diversity and inclusion. Tanenbaum’s first-ever Religious Diversity Leadership Summit was made possible by co-sponsors Disney and DTCC and featured speakers Brian Grim (Religious Freedom and Business Foundation), Pramila Rao (Marymount University) and Neal Goodman (Global Dynamics).

All photos: Jon Nissenbaum