Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace
Faith can often be a difficult topic to broach, fraught with misunderstanding, stereotype and the potential to cause division.
Open and honest discussions about spirituality can help pave a path towards inclusion. This month, NEEOPA seized this opportunity through our first event of the year: a forum on the topic of ‘Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace’.
Faith and Spirituality: a taboo topic?
To open the event, NEEOPA President Rowan Arndt welcomed our participants, noting the unique opportunity they had to talk about spirituality – a topic often overlooked in current discussions around diversity and inclusion.
To demonstrate this point, Alison Burgess, NEEOPA Executive Committee member, took a quick poll which found over 80 per cent of participants in the room had not yet engaged their leadership team in discussing faith as a component of diversity, citing ‘fear’, ‘conflict’ and ‘uncertainty’ as potential reasons.
Alison also demonstrated how these fears need not get in the way of including people of all faiths in workplace policies. As Diversity & Inclusiveness Manager, Oceania, at EY, she shared how the company has implemented two unique offerings for employees. The first, a substituted public holiday policy, allows employees to exchange up to two legislated public holidays (e.g. the Queen’s birthday) for a holiday of significant or spiritual meaning to them (e.g. Lunar New Year). The second is an Interfaith employee network, initiated by EY employees who wanted to encourage a faith dialogue as part of everyday conversations at work.
The impact of faith on career
To explore the impact spirituality can have on a person’s work, Michael Traill AM, author and CEO of Social Ventures Australia, spoke about his own career path and faith-based journey.
Michael, who spent 15 years as Co-founder and Executive Director of Macquarie Group’s private equity arm, Macquarie Direct Investment, reflected on his personal, “evolutionary” journey which led him to jump ship from the corporate world to a non-profit start up. Faith played a significant role in Michael’s career decisions. The Christian Bible particularly influenced Michael’s epiphany with its concept of using the gifts we have been given to the best of our ability – a helpful filter he applies to his decision-making process.
Michael currently has a range of Chair and board roles primarily focused on social purpose issues. He is the author of Jumping Ship – From the world of corporate Australia to the heart of social investment: a widely-acclaimed manifesto for change and action in the social purpose sector.
Building a faith-inclusive workplace
Our second forum speaker was Jacquie Seemann, Partner at Thomson Geer. Jacquie has practised employment and industrial relations law since 1990, guiding clients through four major reforms to the Australian industrial relations system. She is also a leading practitioner in discrimination law, and has recently completed a chapter on the challenges facing religious schools, to be published in a handbook on schools law.
Jacquie is a practicing Orthodox Jew. When it comes to faith in the workplace, she makes it her mission to ensure conversations around faith and spirituality go deeper than food. Jacquie gave forum participants an insight into what it means to be a practicing Jew today, including time when work is prohibited, including Sabbaths, festivals and mourning periods, dietary and customary rituals, and the fear that has prevented Australian Jews from making their identity publically known.
The afternoon ended with numerous questions from participants, ranging from, “how do we get leadership engaged in conversations about faith in the workplace?” to “how do we start incorporating faith-based inclusion?” and “how do we reconcile religious doctrine that, prima facie, discriminates against some groups and the ideal of equality? For example, religious freedom versus marriage equality?”
Based on the Q&A session alone, it is clear we are only just scratching the surface of how to approach faith in the workplace. We encourage our members to start this discussion in small but meaningful ways. As always, we are here to help and provide a safe space for people to share their experiences. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to any members of the NEEOPA executive committee for support on how to engage in faith-based issues in the workplace.