This article is part of a content series on diversity, equity, and inclusion for Campaign Asia-Pacific and Greater China’s Women to Watch, created in partnership with EssenceMediacom.
It’s become a common refrain in the corporate world that employees should “bring their whole selves to work,” one adopted eagerly by companies looking to telegraph their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. But what does that really mean beyond banner causes like gender, sexual orientation, and mental health?
Lesser-discussed areas of diversity such as socioeconomic background, neurotypicality, and faith are all deeply intertwined with how we form our individual identities, yet appear to be low-priority topics in many corporations’ otherwise-robust DEI programmes.
For Rupert McPetrie, APAC CEO at EssenceMediacom, the sheer cultural and religious diversity of Asia Pacific necessitates including faith as an element of DEI. “The diversity of markets and cultures in Asia Pacific means that diversity of faith is there for all of us to see,” he said. “For me, therefore, faith — and recognising that breadth of faith — becomes an integral part of any approach to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
The state of faith in the workplace
According to the 2022 Corporate Religious Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (REDI) Index, only 40% of Fortune 500 companies mention, refer to, or illustrate religion on their main diversity landing page, compared to over 90% which mention racial diversity. Meanwhile, only 7.4% publicly report having faith-oriented employee resource groups (ERGs).
There is a multitude of reasons why this may be. As a historically “sensitive” topic — to say the least — discussion of religion can be a cause of tension if handled improperly. But that core position it has in people’s identities and the passion it inspires is also why forward-thinking companies looking to create people-centric workplaces can no longer afford to overlook faith in their DEI efforts.
At EssenceMediacom, each member of the senior leadership team takes ownership and accountability for a specific element of DEI. McPetrie, who acts as the agency’s faith diversity lead, acknowledges that despite faith being a key pillar of the agency’s DEI initiatives, that isn’t the norm.
As he puts it, “I think it’s quite widely known that diversity of faith isn’t always consistently considered within companies’ DEI initiatives. There’s quite a lot of commentary around faith being almost the forgotten element of DEI agendas and strategies. For us, it’s an integral part of our strategy.”
“When we genuinely commit, as a business, to creating and sustaining an environment where people are free and comfortable to bring their whole selves to work, we want to be representative of the communities that we serve,” he continued.
The business case for religious diversity
Time and time again, studies have shown that diversity isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good for a business’ bottom line, staff morale, and attractiveness to prospective talent. Much has been said about the power that employees now hold post-Great Resignation; how the onus is now on businesses, not workers, to prove their competitive edge.
When it comes to the role diversity plays in recruitment and employee satisfaction, McPetrie observed that today’s candidates “can establish quite quickly” through talking to people in the market or doing their own research “whether a company is walking the talk on DEI or if it’s just a bit of an afterthought.” As a result, he believes there to be “almost a requirement” for businesses to be clear on their intent within DEI, because “candidates will expect to have inclusivity at the heart of hiring, growth, and development.”
And that transparency pays off. “The more diverse thinking we can bring into the agency to explore or debate a client brief, how we would land a message in the most relevant way to the most relevant audience, in the most relevant environment, the better our output,” said McPetrie.
Embedding faith inclusivity in the workplace
When it comes to actually embedding faith inclusivity within the workplace, simple and actionable initiatives such as respecting religious attire, holidays, festivals, and dietary requirements within global markets all go a long way towards fostering a more empathetic and welcoming working environment.
Beyond that, however, McPetrie emphasised the importance of infusing that respect throughout the organisation. “Particularly for businesses like ours which have a lot of mobility, it’s about having the flexibility to respect people’s individual beliefs whether they’re working in their home market or in another market where the traditions and festivals may be different.”
For McPetrie, a global mobility programme isn’t just a welcome perk for staff, but part and parcel of EssenceMediacom’s DEI agenda. “Through mobility programmes around our organisation, we see enormous upsides to giving people an opportunity in another market to elicit different perspectives,” he said. “Some of it is a simple sharing of best practices, and some of it is about having a different entry point to a discussion or a debate. The quality of work is better. We see this in new business pitches, we see this in day-to-day client work.”
With such major and far-reaching benefits, some may wonder why faith diversity hasn’t been embraced more by corporations. “I think one of the reasons why faith perhaps has not been included so consistently in corporate DEI initiatives, is that we need to find that balance in doing so,” mused McPetrie.
In embracing faith inclusivity, companies must strike a delicate balance between empowering people while putting strong safeguards and boundaries in place so as not to disenfranchise others or create tension. McPetrie describes education as the “most critical element” in EssenceMediacom’s diversity efforts, and what allows the agency to be better equipped to understand “when and how an employee can best thrive in a role.”
At the end of the day, the choice to build that culture of empathy, education, and flexibility is a simple one for McPetrie. “I don’t want to oversimplify it, but it’s the right thing to do for our people,” he said. “It’s also the right thing to do for our business, and ultimately, it’s the right thing to do for our clients and our community. There are a lot of direct benefits, but there are also much broader benefits for us as a business and as a society.”