Managing Religious Diversity in the Workplace: Examples From Around The World

Alain Klarsfeld (Toulouse Business School, Toulouse, France)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 14 March 2016




Alain Klarsfeld (2016), "Managing Religious Diversity in the Workplace: Examples From Around The World", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 35 No. 2, pp. 169-172.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Managing Religious Diversity in the Workplace offers a welcomed outlook on not just how to manage and accommodate religion in the workplace, but also on the role of spirituality and/or religion in the workplace across a variety of locations around the globe. The book also offers interesting discussions on the role of religion in education, and for business schools in particular. It adds to previous titles such as the Handbook of Workplace Spirituality and Organizational Performance (Giacalone and Jurkiewicz, 2010) and the Handbook of Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace (Neal, 2013). The book would be of interest to practitioners (both at the policy making and the corporate levels), academics (in all fields of social science), and for higher education administrators alike.

One of the most salient strengths of managing religious diversity in the workplace is that it is structured around regions of the globe: the 15 chapters (excluding introduction and conclusion) that form the body of this book are grouped into four regional parts: North America (three chapters were devoted to Canada, and one tothe USA), Africa (one chapter devoted to South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania and Algeria, respectively), the Middle East and Asia (one chapter devoted to the United Arab Emirates, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, respectively), Europe (one chapter devoted to Belgium, Germany, and a distinct chapter devoted to the place of religion based on an analysis of two European business higher education institutions located in Spain and Belgium).

This book thus explicitly recognizes the contextual nature of religion and workplaces, something not apparent in previous handbooks that were devoted to faith, spirituality and religion. Twenty-four authors from institutions located in 14 countries, representing about the same number of national origins across four continents contributed to the 15 chapters. Most of the chapters were also empirical in nature.

While “diversity management” and “managing spirituality and religion” appear to have emerged in western societies and in particular in the USA, one of the most welcomed aspect of this book is a reminder that religious diversity, often alongside ethnic diversity, is more salient in non-western societies than in western societies. This is apparent from the chapters devoted to the three African countries (South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania) as well as to the three Asian nations (India, the Philippines and Indonesia). This discovery is corroborated by previous scholarly attempts to quantify religious and ethnic diversity (Alesina et al., 2002).

Although these countries are not generally credited for popularizing diversity management (let alone religious diversity management), both practitioners and academics can only benefit reading these chapters in order to draw interesting insights. From the book, it is apparent that religious diversity and religious expressions are commonplace and accepted in Uganda, Tanzania, India, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Examples showing evidence that religious diversity is commonplace and generally well accepted in African or Asian societies abound. In Indonesia for instance, the labor code provides for a one-month allowance for every employee, in anticipation of one specified festival for any of the six officially recognized religions. In the Philippines, employers are legally bound to consider their employees’ preferences on the weekly rest day, especially when such preference is based on religious observance. In India, many organizations accommodate religious diversity by celebrating festivals of various religions, allowing displays of religious material at the workplace, practicing flexible scheduling for religious observance, and providing menu options at the company cafeteria. In Tanzania, the government has sought to create a society that is inclusive of all religions ever since independence. South Africa, in contrast, is portrayed as a secular state since 1994 when apartheid ended, and the legal cases depicted suggest that an employer’s prerogative to organize work takes precedence over requests from employees to accommodate for religious festivals or grooming, similar to France, where the reviewer of this book resides.

One noteworthy observation (and a limitation) of the book is that five out of the 15 chapters focus on Islam, and four of these chapters are principally concerned with accommodation and acceptance of Islamic observance in the workplace (in Canada, the USA, Algeria and Belgium). It is unclear if this is a reflection of the editors’ choice as the editors are not explicit about this, which is probably a shortcoming of this book. This may result in unintentionally portraying Islam as a “problematic” religion. The knowledge that Islam is accommodated differently in these four countries may necessitate such a discussion specifically.

Another limitation which can be also interpreted as an element of richness is the somehow heterogeneous character of the contributions. For instance, two of the four chapters devoted to North America (Canada and the USA) are mainly focussed on legal content (under the form of court decisions) centering on accommodation and “undue hardship” issues. The emphasis on legal considerations does not recur in the other chapters of the book. The Canadian chapter by Sylvie Saint-Onge analyses a series of cases about religious accommodation and “undue hardship”, while the USA chapter by Bahaudin G. Mujtaba and Frank J. Cavico provides recommendations on managing and accommodating Islam in the USA context, with court decisions that also focus on religious accommodation and “undue hardship” (i.e. when an employer may refuse to accommodate).

Some chapters are based on qualitative research and they include interview materials from employees (e.g. in the chapters for Canada and the United Arab Emirates), while others adopt a quantitative approach to analyzing workplace practices (e.g. in the chapters for the Philippines and Indonesia).

Chapters based on original qualitative interview data are from Canada, United Arab Emirates, Belgium and Germany. Sylvie Saint-Onge presents Quebec and Canadian perspectives on reasonable accommodations and “undue hardship” in religious matters in the context of the debate triggered by the Taylor-Bouchard report on the multiple interpretations of the concept of “State neutrality” ranging from “rigid” to “flexible”. Rana Haq provides an interesting interview material from Canadian Muslim women wearing the Hijab who expressed contrasting experiences between Ontario and Quebec. This suggests that Ontario is perceived as more welcoming for Hijabi women than Quebec. Celia de Anca depicts how women feel welcomed as employees and as customers in Islamic banks in the United Arab Emirates and deconstructs the stereotype of the powerless, asset-less, finance-averse Muslim woman, based on interview materials and the history of Islam. Koen Van Laer explores elements shaping policies on religious practices in three Belgian organizations: a large automotive manufacturing plant, a small producer of elements for the building industry, and a firm providing translation and mediation services. Production technology does play a role in shaping policies – for instance, there is more room for accommodating prayer time in a firm providing translation services than on an assembly line. But so do other considerations such as concerns for safety, for fairness, for avoiding proselytism. Jasmin Mahadevan feeds back on how diverse non-Christian religions are perceived at two German research institutions, one being located in the former East Germany in a deprived rural area, the other one in an affluent city in former West Germany. It turns out that attitudes towards religious practices differ according to the two contexts, in spite of a common “engineering” professional culture that generally tends to distance itself from religion.

Chapters based on quantitative material are from the Philippines and Indonesia and Algeria. Viven T. Supangco provides quantitative data on the adoption of a comprehensive set of accommodation practices in the Philippines which appear to be widespread in particular time off for religious observances, consideration of religious needs in providing meals, consideration of different religions in planning holiday-related activities, and wearing of religious messages on clothing. Tri Wulida Afrianty, Theodora Issa and John Burgess quantitatively test whether the recourse to religious supportive practices by employees in Indonesia results in improved outcomes such as organizational citizenship behavior, organizational commitment, job performance and job satisfaction, using universities as the field of investigation. The result is that their hypotheses are not supported: there is no positive influence of recourse to religious accommodations on organizational commitment and job satisfaction, and there is a negative influence, of recourse to religious accommodations on organizational citizenship behavior and job performance. This is tentatively attributed to religious accommodation being a mandate under Indonesian law. Employees who make use of religious accommodation possibilities may just access an entitlement without feeling the need to reciprocate. Assya Khiat, Nathalie Montargot and Farid Moukkes provide quantitative evidence that private and public employers in Algeria provide accommodation during the period of Ramadan (such as flexible scheduling) but nonetheless experience deviant behavior from employees and a drop in productivity.

Probably one of the most controversial chapters of the book is the one devoted to religion and spirituality in business schools, titled “religion and spirituality: the blind spot of business schools”. Wolfgang Mayrhofer and Martin A. Steinbereithner argue that religion and spirituality are generally absent or only implicitly present in business school curricula. The authors thus deem business schools irrelevant to a world where religion and spirituality are on the rise. According to the authors, business schools fail students by opening the door to “greed and lack of virtue” because of a focus on mere hard facts and a shift away from values. While I agree with the authors’ view that spirituality and religion are absent from most business schools curricula, which is problematically disconnected from the world outside business schools, I disagree with their point that this leads to diminishing values. The authors confuse teaching spirituality and religion with teaching values. In so doing, they downplay recent efforts by business schools to cultivate business ethics among students, and by portraying business ethics as a “surrogate” for spiritual and religious content. They coincidentally fail to notice corporate social responsibility as a rising topic in business school curricula. One may in particular question their choice, as a best practice example of how to promote spirituality and religion in business schools, of a catholic business school where the commitment to spirituality is understood as “providing the space and resources to allow those interested in the Christian faith to develop spiritually”. Then, what about students interested in other faiths? However, their chapter paves the way for interesting controversies and avenues for future research.

Overall, I found this book stimulating, a great learning experience, and one that adds to the existing literature on managing religious diversity in the workplace. I applaud Stefan Gröschl and Regine Bendl for having brought together such a valuable set of contributions.


Alesina, A. , Devleeschauwer, A. , Easterly, W. , Kurlat, S. and Wacziarg, R. (2002), Fractionalization, Harvard Institute of Economic Research Discussion Paper, Cambridge, MA.

Giacalone, R.A. and Jurkiewicz, C.L. (Eds) (2010), Handbook of Workplace Spirituality and Organizational Performance , M.E. Sharpe, Armonk.

Neal, J. (Ed.) (2013), Handbook of Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace , Springer, Heidelberg.

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