How Interfaith Groups Make Work Better
September 25, 2020
IFYC’s Senior Advisor for Public Affairs and Innovation, Paul Raushenbush had the opportunity to speak with four interfaith pioneers who are working in the corporate world to make space for people to come to work with their whole selves as religious, spiritual people no matter what the worldview. Employee Resource Groups (ERG) based on individual religions are not new, but Farah Siddiqui at Salesforce, Dan Eckstein at Accenture, Mike Klose at Twitter, and Becky Pomerleau at PayPal decided to start Interfaith ERGs that help people thrive in their own tradition while inviting understanding and community across faith groups resulting in a rich and welcoming culture for people of all worldviews. In the video linked below, Farah, Dan, Becky, and Mike offer insight into how they started their Interfaith ERG, several vivid examples of the difference their group has already made in their company’s culture, and what they see as the future of interfaith work in Corporate America.
Farah: I’ve been in corporate America for around 12 years and throughout my entire career I’ve been the only one who has looked like me and believed like me in the spaces that I was in. An office of 30 people or an office of 200 people, I was the only hijabi woman. Everyone’s nice, everyone’s caring, but do I really belong? There’s walls that I’m creating, there are walls that exist because of perceptions I know people have about my faith and they just don’t know how to talk to me about it. Can we talk about it? Can we break down those walls? At Salesforce there is already a culture of belonging, of allyship, but there just wasn’t that faith narrative. I just reached out to the office of equality, and asked a question to the program owner there saying, “can we add an element of faith inclusion, can we try an interfaith group?” He was down for it and he said let’s do some research and see what we can come up with. So, we talked to a few different companies to see how they were set up and how they approached it. We didn’t really see an interfaith model; we saw a lot of faith-based models. I just knew I didn’t want to go that route, I wanted to find a space for myself to be able to be supported in who I am but I wanted to go beyond myself too, because there is so much value in going outside of yourself and learning about the other. How can we combine that – be your authentic self, confidence in who you are, but also build those relationships across divides, in my case religious divides, but everything else too.
Mike: If our goal is truly to make Twitter the most inclusive and diverse tech company in the world, then faith needs to be represented as its core to the identity of billions of people around the world. Fortunately, we have such a supportive inclusion and diversity team. Making the case for Twitter faith, I don’t think was a huge challenge. Getting it off the ground has been a very interesting experience to say the least, we launched back in January right heading into a global lockdown. We call our group a BRG – Business Resource Group. A BRG is uniquely positioned to not only impact the employee experience, but also have a voice in the policies, the products and services that our company creates and puts out in the world. For example, something that is a work in progress for us right now is, how do we tackle the anti-Semitism that is happening admittedly on our platform and how do we get better at getting it off our platform? That is up to us as a BRG, we are able to make the recommendations and have a seat at the table in those conversations.
Becky: As we were trying to convince our HR folks and our diversity and inclusion programs that there was momentum around this, what really kind of tipped the scales for us is, we had a conscious inclusion training that everyone at PayPal was going through. One of the things they did in the training was ask people to just throw out some phrases that describe their core identity. They were finding that a lot of people actually were saying phrases or words that made reference to their faith background. It wasn’t necessarily something that you could visually observe about them, which was where our existing, what at the time we called diversity and inclusion communities, but it was something much deeper than that. Their core identities were much deeper than that.
Dan: One of the things that stands out for me is our building bridges workshops. We ended up doing one, specifically around faith. It was just an empowering event where we brought different clergy from all the different faith groups to come in and talk. We ended off the end of the day with a Friday night Sabbath dinner at a restaurant on the upper West side, where we had an interfaith audience being able to understand from a Jewish faith. What do the Jewish people do on a Friday night? What are the songs they are singing? To be able to experience that both from the Jewish perspectives and from others who are non-Jewish to be able to share those types of experiences was totally different in the workplace. To me, a lot of our time now is focused on how do we make sure we have those policies and procedures, so a lot around, you know, we’re building a new office in One Manhattan West, making sure that we have a prayer space and being able to figure out what are the things that help our employees.