Published April 26, 2021

Religious Freedom Impacts Your Organization & Society More Than You Realize

What happens when people have religious freedom in the workplace? It has greater impact on our societies than you might think.

Research shows when leaders create environments where their employees feel free to bring their whole self to work, including their faith, it proves to be better for business, economies and even whole societies.

…where people are free to bring their whole soul to work, you create stronger teamwork…

Brian Grim, founding president of the Religious Freedom & Business Forum, is the world’s leading expert on the relationship between religious freedom and the economy, having held leadership roles with the World Economic Forum, as well as the Pew Research Center in Washington D.C. He was also instrumental in setting up the first western-style business school in Kazakhstan after the fall of the Soviet Union. Having spent 20 years in China, Central Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the former USSR, Brian has acquired a wealth of research and first-hand experience which he now brings to his work to help leaders bring religious diversity, equity and inclusion into the workplace.

“In the data of religious freedom around the world, we see that religious freedom is being more restricted as we go on,” said Brian. “Even in this past decade, we’ve had religion related genocide in Iraq, Myanmar, China, etc.—and it’s harkening back to the holocaust. How can this be happening in this day and age? This is a blatant reminder that religious freedom is not respected, and as a result, people are killed because of their faith.”

A further dynamic found in Brian’s research was the realization that there are layers deeper than government restrictions at play in religious freedom. “It’s not just government restrictions, there’s a whole social dimension to whether or not people feel freedom. So, in my research, I began to include measures of the social restrictions that keep people from being able to fully practice, and it was the first time anyone had ever done that.”

These findings have led him to the important work he’s doing today. Brian explains that governments, advocacy and law have not been able to stop restrictions that lead to violence. So, who can influence this much-needed change? He believes it will be led by business. “Historically, religion has made its way through the world through business,” said Brian. “And where you have religious freedom in a business, where people are free to bring their whole soul to work, you create stronger teamwork, more investment in the company, more retention and greater motivation.”

Through Brian’s research, he has found that business and religion have a natural affinity.

Companies are now discovering that religious freedom is good for business. “Once you measure restrictions on religious freedom around the world, you can see how it impacts economies and atmospheres for business and development,” said Brian. “God used the numbers in my research to call me to work focused on connection between economics and religious freedom and business. I believe numbers can be used by God to lead people. And now I’m able to help business leaders see that when you give people freedom in their faith, it creates better economies.”

When you give people freedom in their faith, it creates better economies.

In February 2021, the Global Leadership Network sponsored the second annual Religious Business & Freedom Foundation (RFBF) Faith@Work Conference, which brought together leaders from 75 companies, including 11 Fortune 500 companies, as well as 26 universities, 5 business schools and 46 NGOs. “I’m excited about seeing what God is doing in people’s lives and seeing where I can be supportive and amplify the good work people are doing,” said Brian. “With the RFBF we have seen principles working well in different companies, and our conference allows those companies to share best practices and connect with one another. It excites me to see what is working and see where practices are having a positive impact.”

One of the challenges that the conference brought to the forefront is knowing how to help people bring their whole selves to work, including their faith, and knowing how to do that naturally in a pluralistic environment where many faiths are expressed. “If you’re with people of your own faith, it feels natural—you’re kind of in a bubble,” said Brian. “But how do you create an environment where it is not ‘here’s me and here’s you,’ but ‘here’s us’? It’s about helping people see the world differently. It’s not us and them, the saved and unsaved, the churched and unchurched, the believers and non-believers. In my case as a Christian, it is to see all people as created in the image of God and seeing what God is doing in everyone’s lives.”

“If you have a certain religion with certain truth claims, you might think you’re superior while others are deficient. But this mentality creates barriers that make it hard to interact naturally—you hold a part of yourself back because you don’t want to fully engage. How do you get people to not water down who they are, but also interact with others with full human dignity? How can you be a fully authentic believer, in a way that says, ‘we’re all in this together’?”

How do you create an environment where it is not ‘here’s me and here’s you,’ but ‘here’s us’?

“It’s a hard concept for some people to grasp—that God can be working in the life of those who are not of their same faith,” Brian continues. “Faith often defines how we understand God. For example, what if there’s somebody else, including an atheist, who has spiritual insights that actually edifies you? How do you respond to that? Can you see the image of God in that other person? How do you see God’s face in the other who may not be of your same faith? When you begin with that point, you can meet people as equals.”

Through RFBF, bridges are being built.

During the Faith@Work conference this year, Brian brought in Google’s global lead for diversity and inclusion as the keynote speaker who used the opportunity to debut their premier video about Google’s inter-belief network. Ultimately this conference allows companies to come together to share why religiously inclusive workplaces are so important for the future of business, and leaders can all learn from one another. Brian sees growth from here as he expands the conference regionally into Asia later this August.

“Coming up in August in the days before the Paralympic games, we are going to have a global business and peace symposium focusing on the work being done through Employee Resource Groups and the work being done throughout Asia,” said Brian. “This is a unique opportunity because this event will be at the Paralympics, so it will include faith groups and the groups that work for inclusion related to people’s abilities—Disability Employee Resource Groups. Many large companies have Employee Resource Groups for faith, disabilities and others all over the world, but nobody is shining a light on the topic.

“Inclusion is not just a nice activity that happens in some American companies, it’s a model the works globally,” said Brian. “I want to shine a light on the wonderful activities companies are doing all over the world when it comes to inclusion related to religion. There’s a ripple effect as companies adopt these best practices from others and it’s spreading. RFBF can help connect people from one company to another.”

In fact, Brian has recently connected with executives at Walmart as they look for ways to reach out to people of all faiths within their company. With his background and network of companies who are actively involved in this work, he is able to introduce Walmart to others who are seeing success in their business as a result.

As a leader in your organization, how do you answer these questions?

  • What if there’s somebody else, including an atheist, who has spiritual insights that actually edifies you? How do you respond to that? Can you see the image of God in that other person? How do you see God’s face in the other who may not be of your same faith?
  • Now imagine your organization. What does it look like for each individual to bring their whole self to work?

To learn more about religious freedom, and how it can impact your organization, go to ReligiousFreedomAndBusiness.org

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