My current work focuses on highlighting how religious diversity & inclusion – or workplace religious freedom – is an asset to the bottom line. But I’m not talking about knowledge of religious beliefs and practices. It’s knowledge about how religion impacts the workplace and the marketplace –our coworkers and partners as well as our customers and clients. Data can help us with this.
First, religion is not in decline. When I led the international data project at the Pew Research Center from 2008-2014, we projected that our planet will have 2.3 billion more religiously affiliated people by 2050 compared with just 0.1 billion more religiously unaffiliated people. That’s like religion “winning” 23-to-1. This religious growth is changing the global marketplace. Today, three of the top five economies are Christian-majority. But in 40 years, only one is projected to be. The other four top economies in 2050 will include countries where Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and the unaffiliated predominate. Research shows that this religious growth can be good for the workplace and the bottom lines of businesses – as long as restrictions on freedom of religion or belief are kept low. In such countries, innovative strength is more than twice as high as in countries where governments and societies don’t respect freedom of religion or belief.
But the data on respect for freedom of religion or belief in the U.S. and worldwide are very concerning. Annual studies that I initiated while at the Pew Research Center find that restrictions on religion and belief are high or very high in 40% of countries. But because some of these countries (like China) are very populous, some 5.9 billion people (about 80% of the world’s population) live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion. Since 2009, the number of people living in countries with high religious restrictions and hostilities has increased from 4.8 to 5.9 billion people – that’s an increase of 1.1 billion more people living in countries where freedom of religion or belief is under duress, based on studies from the Pew Research Center.
Research shows that high restrictions on freedom of religion or belief damage or even destroy the pillars of global competitiveness. For example, innovative strength is more than twice as high in countries where governments respect freedom of religion or belief. One indicator of that is whether some of a country’s top entrepreneurs and successful business people stay in a country or leave it. Bloomberg just published research showing which countries are losing or gaining millionaires through migration, with Australia gaining the most and China losing the most. How does this compare with the level of government restrictions on religion and belief in a country? As I mentioned, it’s not surprising that China, the country with the highest government restrictions on religion – as measured by the Pew Research Center – is also losing the highest number of millionaires seeking more free & secure opportunities elsewhere. And Australia, a country with low government restrictions on religion, is benefiting the most from this migration of talent and resources. While the U.S. has relatively moderate government restrictions, it has high social hostilities, according to the past three annual reports by the Pew Research Center.
Much is being done in U.S. companies to combat religious intolerance. This year, for example, Texas Instruments’ Diversity Network celebrates 30 years of diversity leadership and trailblazing. TI was one of the early pioneers of instilling diversity into its corporate culture, embracing the premise that a diverse employee base is likely to facilitate fresh and valuable ideas; and that employees perform at higher levels when they’re permitted to “bring their whole selves to work”. Today the company has 15 grassroots, employee-led diversity resource groups that help foster and support a diverse and inclusive work environment, including faith-oriented groups for Christian, Jewish and Muslim employees.
Accenture hosted a nation-wide webinar, “Religious Literacy 101 – What does it mean to have an accommodation mindset,” for Accenture employees on the case for being able to bring your whole self, faith and all, to work. Accenture has pioneered in both faith-specific and interfaith Employee Resource Groups. Tyson Foods, along with many companies across the country, employs chaplains to minister to the needs of their multi-faith team members. Karen Diefendorf, a retire US Army Command Chaplain, leads their chaplain force.
Worldwide, a number of companies adhere to a religious or belief-based ethos. For instance, Sanitarium, the most popular breakfast cereal company in Australia, is owned and operated by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The parent company of Sanitarium was Sanitas, the original company set up by then-Adventists John Harvey and W.K. Kellogg to manufacture toasted corn flakes as a healthier alternative to the greasy American breakfasts of the day. Yes, and now you know the religious roots of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes!
Next time you hear about religious freedom, consider its connection to the economy. Even if you are not religious, for the sake of sustainable development and human flourishing, religious freedom is important.