Wa’qaar Mirza, CEO and Creative Director of Safi Ideas, an incubation company, shares his insights on working in culturally mixed teams and what religious tolerance can teach business leaders.
Embracing cultural diversity within the workplace can only enhance a business. With more corporations taking an all-encompassing approach to ‘normalising’ marginalised groups within the workplace, businesses can work together to create a more inclusive, more accepting society.
Supporting faith groups in the workplace
From the start of my working life, I have experienced the richness that comes from a mixed team of culturally diverse people. I have always gravitated towards businesses that have not been marginalised in their thinking but offer a unique perspective in seeing the importance of having a diverse team of people.
I spent a large part of my earlier career in the Middle East, working for Western and Islamic businesses. Here, the law allows people to continue with their Islamic practices within the workplace, such as praying five times a day.
This proved incredible in so many ways. International western companies based in the Middle East often employed a wealth of diverse people from all corners of the world. The non-muslims working in that environment displayed mindfulness and emotional intelligence towards the Islamic religion.
People accepted and respected Muslims so much more with that deeper understanding of the religious beliefs and daily practices. Ramadan, for example, where Muslims practice self-discipline, donate to charity, and fast as a reminder to those who have suffered and starved, revealed to these international corporations just how much the Islamic faith advocates peace and empathises with those less fortunate around the world.
Bringing my corporate experience to the UK, I am fortunate to have had mostly positive working experiences throughout my career. I have not experienced prejudice against my religion or faith, and I now endeavour to ensure I bring diversity to the fore within the businesses I now run.
Within the UK, is it now almost an accepted norm that international corporations will allow people to pray within the workplace, often offering prayer facilities for a formal prayer on Fridays. It’s amazing to see this type of practice accepted and encouraged here in the UK, helping to understand the Islamic faith better.
With Islam being the second-largest religious group across the world (24% of the world population), second to Christianity which has a following of 33%, it’s important for all businesses to look to embrace and support diversity and faith groups within the workplace. Here are six key points to consider:
1. Be mindful of religious festivals
All cultures have their own celebrations with a few important festivals throughout the year. Being mindful of this and allowing employees to take time off where appropriate will really help build an inclusive team. During Ramadan, Muslims are fasting and need more time to pray throughout the day, for example.
2. Recognise different religious dietary needs
Already well practised within many businesses, accommodating different religious dietary needs will help faith groups feel more accepted within the workplace. Offering Halal, Kosher, vegetarian, and vegan food options in the canteen, meetings, and events, for example, is an important inclusive practice to implement.
3. Be mindful of appearance and religious attire
Business leaders need to lead from the top and show an understanding of religious attire. Women wearing a hijab has been the cause of a great deal of prejudice to this very day. Many people don’t know or accept that Muslim women in the UK choose to wear the headscarf; it is not forced upon them. Businesses need to be mindful that this attire is a faith choice and should leave their doors open for individuals to decide without fear of reprieve or dismissal.
4. Bring in diversity and inclusivity training
Adding cultural sensitivity training to an onboarding programme (and beyond) is a great way to encourage an all-accepting culture within a business from the get-go. Simple awareness training educating on cultural differences, for example, can really go a long way and will help all marginalised groups feel more comfortable and understood.
5. Offer a private space for daily prayers
Making a room available for prayer will really help faith groups feel positive that their beliefs and practices are acknowledged and accepted. It will also help non-Muslims understand the daily practices and how these are part of a wider community and culture.
6. Keep the working environment free from victimisation
Unfortunately, stereotypes can often lead to harassment, discrimination or victimisation against certain religions or beliefs, so it is really important every workplace reinforces that this is unacceptable behaviour. Regular training on cultural differences can nurture a deeper understanding between colleagues and help offset those stereotypes, ensuring the working environment is free from harassment and victimisation.
Diversity within the workplace is crucial to ensuring a business is balanced with a stream of creative peaks. We learn so much about thinking outside the box in diverse environments. By bringing together different faiths within the workplace, a business will have a far wider perspective. It can offer an innovative, multi-dimensional creative point of view, which would not be possible with a one-dimensional team.
Opportunities will be missed should a business not embrace diversity within the workplace. One of my business Safi Ideas’s objectives, is to create content that gives greater visibility to marginalised groups; this could not be achieved without having a diverse team of people reflected within the business.
By Wa’qaar Mirza, CEO of Safi Ideas, creator of Zayn & Zayna’s Little Farm.