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National Conference Emphasizes Faith in the Workplace

Fort Worth – The Busch School of Business at the Catholic University of America (CUA) and the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation (RFBF) hosted the inaugural national conference for faith-oriented Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in Washington, DC, Feb 13-14.

The event brought together Employee Resource Group (ERG) leaders from across corporate America to share their outlook for the future and ideas for furthering the trend toward a wider acceptance of faith-based ERGs. Some of America’s largest and most familiar companies have embraced faith-based ERGs, including American Airlines (AA), which tied for number five with Facebook on the new Religious Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Index (REDI).

Father Greg McBrayer, a Chief Flight Dispatcher and Anglican Priest, serves as the Senior Christian Employee Business Resource Group Diversity Advisory Council Representative at American Airlines.

“My role is to both oversee and plant new Christian Ministry Chapters within AA worldwide, which exist under the oversight of the Inclusion and Diversity Department,” McBrayer said.

McBrayer has been involved in the faith movement in the aviation industry for 20 years. He also oversees the Board of Directors at DFW Airport Interfaith Chaplaincy, which has 15 volunteer chaplains from all three major faith groups [Christian, Jewish and Muslim] that provide the ministry of presence and chapel services at DFW Airport daily.

The phrase emphasized at the conference was, “I want to bring my whole, true self to work,” and faith is a large part of many workers’ personal identities. But if their workplaces do not support this part of who they are, the results can be a failure to perform job duties, excessive absences, or resignation/termination.

“We find our faith at the foundation of who we are,” McBrayer said. “To bring that into the workplace, where we deal with the anxieties and stresses of our jobs and professions, is absolutely needed,”

An objective measure of corporate diversity for faith was created by the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation. It is called the corporate Religious Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Index, or the REDI, Index. The other nine corporations (excluding AA) recognized at this first-time event were: Alphabet/Google, Tyson Foods, Intel, Target, Facebook, Apple, Dell, Goldman Sachs and American Express.

The REDI Index is the first benchmark for the objective assessment of the state of America’s corporate inclusion of religion as part of its diversity, equity and inclusion programs and initiatives. It uses practices to make sure the Index comes out objectively, including double-blind coding [counting and categorization] of the main diversity landing pages of Fortune 100 companies and other data.

The latest findings are disappointing. Many corporations still overlook religious inclusion, while paying attention to other diversity classifications, such as race/ethnicity, women/gender, sexual orientation, veterans/military, disability, age, and family, by a factor of 34-to-1. Several corporations have already been through expensive lawsuits.

Hilton paid $21 million in 2019 to a dishwasher because Hilton did not reasonably accommodate his religious needs. Abercrombie & Fitch was taken to the Supreme Court in 2015, in which the plaintiff accused the corporation of putting their “looks policy” above religious freedom and indiscrimination. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, who wanted to wear a hajib to work.

The analysis done by the RFBF determined that only 43 of the Fortune 100 companies in the U.S. even mention religion on their company diversity sections of their corporate websites.

About half of the 43 companies that do mention religion only bring it up once, as a part of a boilerplate nondiscrimination statement.

Brian Grim, PhD, president of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, which was created in 2014, has some hopeful news.

“Our research, however, also indicates that corporate America is at a tipping point toward giving religion similar attention to that given the other major diversity categories, especially as our nation is becoming more religiously diverse with no one religious denomination holding a majority,” Grim said. “Indeed, including religion is a litmus test for whether a company fully embraces diversity, equity and inclusion. This conference has shown the world that faith is welcome inside of corporate America.”

American Airlines is evidence of employee identity inclusion. The new religious-freedom rankings come after years of the corporation’s strong support of other CRG groups.

“This is a very exciting season for our faith based EBRG’s, and I am very proud of what I see occurring within American Airlines,” Father McBrayer said. 

“The perception out there is that religion is a dangerous topic, but some companies have found the opposite that it reinforces the other things they care about,” Grim said.

“Companies considering faith-based initiatives should strive to ensure they are inclusive,” Nick Fish, president of American Atheists, said. “Creating a work environment that is exclusionary of non-religious staff or members of religious minorities is a recipe for disaster.”

This historic Religious Freedom and Business Foundation gathering at CUA has already set the 2021 date to convene again next year, which clearly indicates the growth of this movement in corporate America to provide opportunity for employees to bring their whole selves to the work, including their faith.