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Religious Diversity Leadership Summit: Raising the Bar

This year’s third annual Religious Diversity Leadership Summit was the largest one yet, with attendance near capacity and a waitlist in hand. Tanenbaum’s first full day Summit boasts 155 attendees and 23 speakers plus moderators from 64 companies, spanning 18 industries. The day included four concurrent breakout sessions addressing focused topics, another first for the Summit. Hosted by Bloomberg, the Summit was sponsored by Bloomberg, DTCC, and the Walt Disney Company.

Speakers shared personal stories to highlight pragmatic approaches to handling religious diversity in the workplace, showing attendees that this topic is not just about professional policies, it’s also about the people. Amin Kassam, keynote speaker and Chief of Staff and Senior Counsel at Bloomberg, eloquently spoke of his trepidation of coming out of two closets, as gay and as Muslim, during his professional life and highlighted some of his challenges. He courageously discussed the intersectionality of his religious and sexual identities in a way that was moving and inspiring.

Panelists and moderators in the programs that followed repeatedly came back to the importance of “bringing ones’ whole self to work” and the positive impact, as well as sometimes challenges, this can have for everyone. This was addressed in the context of varying positions of power in a company, the impact of generational norms, and the influence of different company cultures (corporate, non-profit, government, etc.).

In response to the Summit, attendees shared the following reactions and takeaways from the day:

  • “I have attended the previous conference[s]. They just keep getting better.”
  • “I appreciated ‘respectful curiosity. As a baby boomer, I was taught never to ask questions about why people are different. However, I always found [that] by asking respectful questions, you get to learn the culture and practices of others.”
  • As organizations, we celebrate what we value. [Also,] don’t be paralyzed by potential backlash. Instead, be prepared to ask people what they want/need when they raise concerns and say ‘What about me?’
  • “The Senior Leadership Panel described strong actions implemented at their company that describes the financial [return on investment] from diversity and inclusion. Using the Learning Lab assignment with Senior Management will generate dialogue and ultimately result in exercise to implement with staff.”

Pragmatic approaches were presented together with presenters’ stories, which provided an element of transparency that many attendees were pleasantly surprised to experience. From Mr. Kassam’s speech to the six different panels to Deputy CEO Mark Fowler’s Learning Lab, the Summit provided attendees with personal insight and practical knowledge of how to handle religion in the workplace. The overarching message of the day as one attendee so powerfully articulated was that diversity of religion is a fact, but inclusion of religion is a choice.”

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