Why Employers Should Promote Religious Diversity
The emergence of COVID-19 over the past month has almost completely redefined business strategy, forcing many employees to work from home and managers to redesign tasks and client engagement strategies. Many organizations have not only formed crisis management teams, but have also begun thinking more critically about the well-being of their employees and how that feeds into organizational morale and productivity.
But is there a clear strategy staring most companies in the face all this time? There is, and it pertains to religious practice.
Public health literature presents a well-known consensus that participation in religious communities and activities has been shown to have many benefits, including greater longevity and reported well-being; less depression, suicide, smoking, and substance abuse; better cancer and cardiovascular disease survival; lower divorce rates; greater social support, meaning, and purpose in life; and more charitable giving, civic engagement and human flourishing. Further, faith can also help people moderate their subjective well-being over the boom and bust of a business cycle.
The Gallup World Poll has been tracking global data on religion for more than a decade, documenting that the vast majority of the world’s population identifies with a religious tradition and considers religion to be an important part of life. But beyond people indicating religion is important, is there data demonstrating the impact, if any, of religion on the human condition?
Just as religion is a major part of most people’s lives, so too is their occupation. In light of the empirical evidence that religion is associated with well-being and human flourishing, it would seem logical that businesses would want to develop policies aimed at facilitating and protecting the free practice of religious beliefs, which would in turn foster the health and well-being of their workforce. Perhaps more than ever, in the midst of an economic crisis, this has never been more important. As corporations and small businesses feverishly look for ways to survive the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders would do well to consider how the faith factor may be a strategic tool for helping employees to cope and manage these difficult economic times.
This raises the questions, are American businesses incorporating religion as an integral part of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives? And if so, how exactly are they doing it? The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF) recently released the results of a groundbreaking study that provides preliminary answers to these questions. In order to monitor the progress (or lack thereof) of Fortune 100 companies, RFBF created the Corporate Religious Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (REDI) Index. They analyzed the public facing websites of Fortune 100 companies, finding that the vast majority of corporations overlook religion in their equity, diversity, and inclusion priorities. However, the few companies that do include religion are also more inclusive as a whole, suggesting that there is a “religion dividend” that benefits all forms of diversity, including ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and others. This is consistent with other multinational studies finding that countries with greater religious liberty also provide greater overall freedom of expression, including for minorities.
In our own research, we linked data for 47 of these Fortune 100 companies covered by the RFBF, comparing their financial statements with their ranking on the RFBF survey. We found that there is a strong correlation of roughly 30 percent between measures of financial performance, such as revenue per employee and revenue growth, and religious diversity, as well as with employee reviews from Glassdoor. For example, an additional one-unit increase in a company’s REDI score is associated with a 0.13 percentage point increase in revenue growth from 2010 to 2018 and a 0.025 unit increase in employee ratings. These, particularly for revenue growth, are large in light of the fact that the average company in the sample grew by 60 percent over these years.
Admittedly, more research is required to uncover the causal effect of religious diversity on economic performance and employee satisfaction. But the writing is on the wall: religion and human flourishing are intimately connected. Companies that allow employees to authentically express their beliefs without fear of condemnation and persecution will attract talented candidates and outperform their counterparts in the marketplace.
If we are going to weather the storm of COVID-19, and the many storms we will face in the future, companies need to do more than create accommodations for working from home and digital services arrangements. We need open and trusting work environments that treat faith communities as assets, rather than liabilities to be marginalized. Diversity has become a popular mantra in recent years, but our results here highlight that religious diversity is an often-overlooked measure. The REDI Index provides an integral first step in measuring and monitoring company performance and tracking it over time to understand diversity in the corporate world.
Byron R. Johnson is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University and founding Director of the Institute for Studies of Religion. He is also a senior fellow at the Sagamore Institute (Indianapolis).
Christos A. Makridis serves as a Assistant Research Professor at Arizona State University, a Digital Fellow at the MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy, a Non-resident fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Cyber Security Initiative, a Non-resident fellow at the Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion, and a Senior Adviser to Gallup.