D&I at The Lab : Faith in the workplace

type - features
category - gender
category - society
category - workplace
sector - diversity & inclusion
category - d&i at the lab
In the next edition of our Diversity & Inclusion at The Lab series, we explore the human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion within the workplace.

Earlier this year, we saw the Church of England release the Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Taskforce report, From Lament to Action, which looks at racism in the Church of England. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby openly admitted that the church’s culture around employment and engagement was institutionally racist (as defined by the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence) and that it was time to better reflect People of the Global Majority in the organisation through a series of measures the taskforce has identified. Although welcome, the problem is that this is the fortieth such report into racism the C of E has instigated over two decades, and not much seems to have changed during that time. The lesson here, of course, is that action has to happen throughout an organisation – it’s not enough for top-down decisions to instigate reports, taskforces or think-tanks.

As a company, The Future Laboratory has always proclaimed the catch-cry of the Age of Enlightenment as its motto – Sapere Aude! – Dare to Know. The intention was to unshackle ourselves from religious strictures that defined convention and to be proudly secular in our thinking and viewpoint. And that desire remains. But to support a secular perspective does not and should not undermine a culture that actively supports and encourages personal belief, faith and spirituality, of whatever dimension. Indeed, to quote the great Enlightenment writer Voltaire: ‘Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.’ Not so much a ‘privilege’ we should all celebrate, but the human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

We hope the contributions below are insightful and help to give you a wider understanding of faith in the workplace and how we can be better allies in the workplace.

This is the sixth in the D&I at The Lab series. Stay tuned for upcoming articles. You can also read more on our post-urgency approach to diversity and inclusion, our approaches to Trans Inclusion and how we’re transforming the way we recruit.

Published by:

5 August 2021

Author: Chris Sanderson and Gursharan Panesar

Image: ANIMA II by Nick Verstand


Seek Refuge, US

Paige, people and D&I assistant:
Being respectful of religious beliefs in the workplace

In professional environments, I have heard statements comparing believing in God to believing in the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny. For me, this dismissiveness of faith is on a par with the man in the street telling you that you are going to hell for not believing in their religion. You can be religious and progressive at the same time – the two things are not mutually exclusive.

Blanket statements about religion can be extremely demeaning, even when they are meant in jest, and as a result people often feel pressurised to hide their faith in the workplace due to fear of being labelled as radical or having a backward mindset. The need to conceal major parts of their identity can lead people of faith to feel displaced. To promote a sense of belonging, companies must create supportive spaces where employees can express their faith. During an interview with Bill Maher, Barack Obama stated: ‘We should foster a culture in which people’s religious beliefs including atheists and agnostics are respected’. He explained that issues arise when people take extreme stances and try to force others to believe what they do.

The article here provides information about how offices can be more inclusive of religion with a focus on social events and workplace discrimination

‘You can be religious and progressive at the same time – the two things are not mutually exclusive.’
Paige Owusu, people and D&I assistant, The Future Laboratory
Doug Wheeler installation at David Zwirner, New York

Thomas, senior account manager:
Faith and Fatherhood

What do you consider an important part of your identity? Your heritage, sexuality, gender? Maybe it’s where you were born or even your job title? On the path to parenthood, I have been asked to consider my own identity a lot. As a future parent of an adopted child, it will be important that I can honour, respect and celebrate my child’s identity, much of which will be formed by their birth family. This got me thinking about their family’s religion. Now that could be tricky. My partner and I don’t practise a religion. In fact, we don’t know much about the worlds of faith and worship. What if our child comes from a religion that actively discriminates against the LGBTQA+ community? Eek! Ok, so that’s unlikely, but it’s still something that plays on my mind. Growing up, religion was always used in a divisive way – ‘It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!’ Eyes roll. I think for any member of the queer community, religion can be a trigger, but as a future parent, my point of view needs to change. It’s time I lean into religion and start to learn. This is what led me to Benjamin Carlton’s TED Talk, ‘I’m black, I’m a minister and I’m gay, who are you to judge?’ In their talk, Benjamin talks about how we are all controlled by a phobia that is based on a narrative, often a false narrative. Benjamin goes on to highlight some assumptions we have all become accustomed to and how in order for us to progress, we’re going to have to start shifting those narratives. What’s my hope moving forward? That we all remove the powerful false narratives that we have been fed since childhood and move forward with a willingness to learn. 


Momo, senior strategic researcher:
Islam through many lenses: a multi-story mindset by Kiana Rawji for TEDx

When we close our eyes and imagine a Muslim woman, we often see a Middle Eastern-looking woman wearing a hijab. But the reality is that there is significant diversity among Muslims across the globe. The binary thinking of Islam being violent or Islam being a religion of peace is something that doesn’t lead to the nuanced view that Islam is full of people who are complex and practise their religion and faith differently. This beautiful talk explores the multi-faceted constructions of Islam without absolutism and really eloquently explains what I try to express as a Muslim person every time I see the expressions of non-Muslim Westerners when they realise I am Muslim.

‘While 71% considered themselves at least slightly religious, they had little trust or interest in engaging with religious institutions.’
Holly Friend, senior foresight writer, The Future Laboratory
Emilia Ortiz Spiritual Mami

Holly, senior foresight writer:
It's time to rethink Gen Z spirituality

I really enjoyed this article in i-D based on a new study of the religious behaviours of 10,000 American 13–25-year-olds. While the term ‘spirituality’ has been watered down over time by brands and media platforms keen to reflect Gen Z as ethereal, Tarot-loving amateur astrologists, this study sheds light on the complexities of their faith. While 71% considered themselves at least slightly religious, they had little trust or interest in engaging with religious institutions. Hence, a shift in language towards spirituality – for example, those who practise Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and other non-Christian faiths were more likely to call themselves ‘spiritual’ than ‘religious’. It’s a good reminder to move away from simplistic definitions of religion and spirituality, and to consider these nuances when discussing faith at the workplace and in our content. 

Gursharan, graduate trainee:
The terms and conditions of being Sikh in the workplace

There are a variety of visual indicators to someone’s religion or faith. For Christians, it may be wearing a cross, Muslim women can opt to wear a hijab and many Sikh men choose to put on a turban. For Sikhs across the globe, the journey to corporate acceptance continues to be difficult, with Sikh doctors to this day being fired for refusing to cut their hair. Here is a wonderful article which explains the history of Sikh people in the workplace, detailing the plights of openly practising religious employees.

Colinas do Cruzeiro Islamic Cultural Centre, designed by Estúdio AMATAM, photography by Invisible Gentleman, Portugal

Fiona, people director:
The Future Laboratory Policy

Traditionally, The Future Laboratory has always granted its team members an additional fixed four days’ annual leave to take over the Christmas period. The extra holiday gives team members more time off during the festive period, stretching from Christmas Eve to the Gregorian calendar’s New Year. For many people, including some who are not religious and don’t observe Christmas, this period signals a ritualistic ending to one year and the beginning of a new one.

What this system didn’t consider was that not all faith and religion works to the Christian timeline, and so in 2021 we updated this policy to allow people of different faiths and religions to take these four days at different times during the year so that they too may observe their own religious holidays without having to take it from their annual leave. This is a significant culture shift that allows us to be more inclusive of faith intersections.

‘In 2021 we updated this policy to allow people of different faiths and religions to take these four days at different times during the year’
Fiona Anderson, people director, The Future Laboratory

Want to read more?

This article is part of our Diversity & Inclusion work at The Future Laboratory. Explore our work on D&I on our blog and discover what steps we are taking to make a better tomorrow happen.

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