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Some religious employees subjected to ridicule and stereotyping, survey finds

16 December 2022

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WHILE most Christian employees in the UK and the United States feel positive about expressing their faith at work, others have been subject to ridicule and hostility from colleagues, on the basis of stereotypes, new research suggests.

‘Much as I respect your right to bring symbols of your faith to the workplace, Pemberton’

The research, conducted by a business-psychology consultancy, Pearn Kandola, was published on Wednesday in the report Religion at Work: Experiences of Christian employees. It is based on answers from the 1042 Christians across the UK and US who took part in an online survey this year.

Of these, most (74 per cent) chose not to wear a religious symbol at work. Of the 154 Christian employees who did wear religious dress at work, one third (32 per cent) did not feel comfortable reporting an incident involving these items.

This percentage was higher among the 371 UK-based Christian employees: 82 per cent chose not to wear religious dress or symbols at work. Of the 66 UK-based Christian employees who did choose to wear religious dress or symbols at work, 36 per cent said that they did not feel comfortable doing so.

Almost half (48 per cent) of all UK-based Christian employees agreed that their organisation could do more to make employees feel comfortable wearing religious dress or symbols.

Taking annual leave for religious festivals was found to be less problematic across the UK and the US: just 2.5 per cent of all Christian participants said that their employer had rejected such a request, while 14 per cent said that they did not feel comfortable discussing religious festivals at work.

In the UK, however, women were found to be “significantly more likely” than men to have annual leave requests for religious festivals rejected.

Across the two countries, men felt more comfortable than women discussing religious festivals, asking for time off, and wearing religious symbols.

The report also states that, “in the UK, women were far more likely to feel that their organisation could do more to make employees feel comfortable wearing religious dress or symbols, whereas in the US, men were more likely to feel their organisation could do more.”

Further qualitative research was carried out with 110 Christian participants. There were a variety of experiences from Christian employees who had expressed their religious beliefs at work. While some reported improved connections with colleagues and general well-being, others reported being stereotyped by colleagues and in some cases harassed. Some of the respondents who chose not to disclose their faith said that this was out of fear of causing offence.

One said: “I think my manager thinks I’m quaint or old fashioned for being religious.” Another said: “My co-worker has said some disparaging things as she feels that people who come from my religious identity must be bigots or even fascists.”

Barriers to religious expression referred to included a lack of support, awareness, and the nature of the job. Participants recommended that employers improve support of Christian employees by embracing diversity and inclusion, developing effective policies, and creating opportunities for their beliefs to be expressed.

The recently published 2021 Census found that England and Wales are now minority Christian countries (News, 2 December). Commenting on the Census and the Pearn Kandola report, its co-founder Binna Kandola, a business psychologist, said: “Many Christians are in fact facing similar issues as those of other minority religions. As our research revealed, they are not exempt from negative experiences at work, such as those involving discrimination and stereotyping.”

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