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More companies encourage employees to bring full selves — including religion — to work

Faith

LEHI, Utah (KSL.com) — Father Greg McBrayer has worked for American Airlines for almost 45 years, most recently as chief flight control director. But his job changed significantly after 9/11 when he began bringing his faith to work with him.

“I have been able to use that single event to bring my faith, which was pretty much compartmentalized at the time, into my job each and every day. And American Airlines has seen the fruit and value from that,” he said.

Father McBrayer, an Anglo-Catholic priest, said he would likely have retired by now if it weren’t for the joy he feels from advancing his faith in the workplace. He comes to work dressed as a priest and he said his company recognizes the value that comes when someone can bring their whole self to work.

He cited instructions from flight attendants before an airplane takes off directing people to put on their own emergency masks first before helping others and said corporations can care for themselves first by including religion in the workplace. Father McBrayer encouraged companies to make that change to include religion if they haven’t yet.

The Religious Freedom and Business Foundation held a conference about including faith in the workplace on Friday at the Lehi campus of Utah Valley University. It is the first conference in Utah, and something the foundation plans to repeat in the state each year.

Employee resource groups

Brian Grim, founding president of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, said companies are embracing religion as part of their diversity and inclusion programs, including in employee resource groups.

“Faith and belief employee resource groups provide a platform for employees to support one another and give employees of faith an official voice within the company to make their concerns and ideas known, including business insights. These give a company a competitive advantage that increases employee morale — and therefore retention,” Grim said.

He said having these groups can help recruit people who have religion as a core identity, which then benefits the company’s bottom line. He said having a faith-based employee resource group also builds how inclusive the workplace is for people in other categories.

Grim said when a company includes religion as part of its diversity commitments, it also opens the door for companies to stand up for more human rights issues. Building a religious group in the workplace is practicing freedom of religion, he said.

Conferencegoers shared their experiences developing employee resource groups based on religion in their workplaces, and their motivations to do something to help people from all religions feel accepted and free to practice their religion in the workplace.

Adam Smith-Cairns said he was introduced to a religious group during his first week working at ServiceNow, a software company based in Silicon Valley for which he works remotely. He said the idea was not to talk about what they believe, but to talk about how they experience their belief and how it impacts their work. He said they were often brought to tears, including when an atheist spoke about a need to connect with people.

The charter developed by the group lists goals to celebrate, learn and respect.

Smith-Cairns said the group has held a “bring your faith to work week” in August where one employee taught them about a Hindu holiday. He said through the group, he has learned so much about other religions.

Matt Evans, who is involved in the religion-based employee resource group at Salesforce, said he has spent a day fasting during Ramadan, lit candles for Hanukah and celebrated Christmas and Diwali with co-workers in the group.

He said the members focus a lot on education. After a mandatory work meeting landed on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism, they began sending information to managers about religious holidays each month, with tips about how to help employees celebrate and holiday-specific greetings.

When complex religious issues arise, their response is to listen and allow everyone to be heard.

Evans said he has talked to multiple people who said they joined Salesforce because of the faith-based equality group, and they stay with the company because they appreciate being able to show their religion and be their true selves while at work.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see how that affects employees, how that creates diversity in the workplace, and how it allows people to create relationships with people they wouldn’t normally create relationships with,” Evans said.

Utah Valley University

Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez says religion is a big pillar of the university’s diversity efforts.

She said the largest Institute of Religion for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on UVU’s campus, and thousands of students feel the freedom to go participate in their religion right from campus at that facility. There are many religious clubs at UVU and an interfaith student council is available for students of all faiths where people can explore religious ideas and discuss religious topics.

“This is important to the health of students. This is important to the empowerment of students. This is an important freedom for students to explore, and to also adhere to faith and be committed to it. And I think that is a great thing to have at a university,” Tuminez said.

She titled her talk “Religion and its Freedoms,” and spoke about how religion gives people the freedom to think and the freedom to be equal. She said religious freedom means more curiosity, listening and compassion.

“When I look at myself, the person I am today — how I lead, how I walk, how I talk, how I treat people — is an amalgamation of all of those religious experiences of my life,” she said.

Throughout her career she hasn’t worn her religion on her sleeve, but people around her still know it is important to her.

“(Religion) offers me a way to navigate, it gives me the freedom to navigate,” she said.

She said it can be time consuming, and an emotional burden, to only show one side of yourself at work. She said true inclusion allows people to come to work without the need to compartmentalize and allow people to flourish as themselves, not feeling a need to hide their religion.

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