Guide launched to help multi-faith workplaces be inclusive

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday August 14, 2019

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A new resource has been released to help workplaces be more inclusive as Australia becomes increasingly religiously diverse.

Chaired by former Army chief Lieutenant General David Morrison, the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) developed a guide that explains how workplaces can address a range of common faith-related queries, and gives pointers to balance issues where there might be conflicting rights.

While Australia is becoming more diverse, there are also more non-religious people than ever before. This can have implications for those who work, according to DCA’s CEO, Lisa Annese.

“Workplaces are developing increasingly sophisticated diversity and inclusion policies, but when we consulted with our members about this issue, we heard that there was a lack of clarity about the legal landscape, and this was adversely impacting on their capacity to know how to best legally accommodate employee faith-related needs and requests,” she said.

Annese said workplaces must move away from “just doing just what the law says”, and aim for the “higher aspiration” of inclusion, which can benefit the workplace and employees.

Employees perform worse when they feel they must hide their faith identity to fit in with their organisation’s requirements, while those who feel they do not have to hide their faith are less likely to leave their organisation, according to the report. Preventing discrimination also minimises organisational legal exposure and risk and reduces costs associated with absenteeism, turnover and loss of staff morale and productivity. The guide details how to build inclusiveness into workplace policies, and sets out a framework for situations where staff may have particular religious needs which might conflict with work requirements.

DCA is often asked how to handle situations where an employee’s faith challenges another employee’s belief or identity, according to Annese.

“There are no simple answers, but DCA has developed a framework to help navigate some of these situations, based on the principle of inclusion — ensuring that all employees are respected, connected, and able to contribute and progress,” she said.

“What we are saying is, that rather than arguing about whether or not something is legal, let’s think about whether it’s respectful and inclusive. And if it’s not, then it’s probably not appropriate in a workplace, even if you think it comes from a place of love.”

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