Religious expression in the workplace is not a level playing field, suggests a new report looking into the treatment of Hindu employees in British workplaces.
Almost two-fifths of UK-based Hindu employees have had an annual leave request to celebrate a religious holiday or festival rejected without good reason, says the Religion at Work: Experiences of Hindu Employees report, published today by leading business-psychology consultancy Pearn Kandola.
The report on Hindu employees’ representation and treatment in the workplace follows the appointment of its first Hindu Prime Minister. However, this historical moment in British history should not allow diversity at the top to distract businesses from a lack of inclusion and representation overall.
Hindu representation in UK workplaces
Qualitative research found that limited representation often leaves Hindu employees feeling lonely and isolated at work. Many participants said most of their colleagues held Christian beliefs, and several stated that most of the workforce was white. This lack of diversity has left many Hindu employees unable to express their religious identities freely.
Restrictive policies and insufficient awareness of Hindu beliefs and practices exacerbate the situation. Several participants, for example, stated that they were required to dress in a ‘professional’ or ‘non-offensive’ manner at work, with many interpreting this as meaning they should avoid wearing cultural or religious dress.
While the appointment of Rishi Sunak is a significant development for inclusivity in the UK, it is crucial to note the varying forms of privilege that have helped pave the way to his success. The research on the experiences of Hindu employees at work demonstrates the need to express caution about how the recent news relates to true progress around religion and race.
Binna Kandola, OBE, Business Psychologist and Co-Founder, Pearn Kandola, commented: “There is no doubt that the UK having its first Hindu Prime Minister is a truly historic moment – Rishi Sunak has stated on several occasions how important his faith is to him. Yet, we need to be mindful of the findings of this research. Many Hindus do not feel that they are able to express their faith openly. This is significant and demonstrates that organisations still have progress to make in creating truly inclusive cultures.”
Hurdles around religious festivals and dress
With many Hindu employees feeling unable to express their faith openly, the research delved into attitudes and policies around religious festivals and dress. Ninety-three per cent of UK-based Hindu employees who wear cultural or religious dress, for example, chose not to do so at work. Meanwhile, a third (32%) of UK-based Hindu employees did not feel comfortable discussing religious festivals at work.
Only 5% of Hindu employees in the UK believe their organisation is happy with them taking time off for religious festivals, compared to 44% in the US. Overall, the data illustrates that UK-based Hindu employees feel less supported than their US counterparts when it comes to religious expression.
While some people choose not to express their religious beliefs at work due to personal preferences, others would like to do so but fear the consequences. The qualitative research highlighted that this decision was often based on witnessing how others have been treated.
“Many UK-Hindus feel as though they cannot be their true selves at work, which is preventing them from achieving their full potential,” said Binna Kandola. “Organisations need to tackle the problem head-on by creating cultures that welcome religious diversity and encourage employees to express their religious identity freely.”
What can organisations do to drive change?
Organisations across the UK need to take action to raise awareness and build inclusive cultures. Thirty-five per cent of Hindu employees, for instance, agreed that their organisations could do more to make employees feel more comfortable wearing religious dress.
Hindu employees said educating other employees would encourage them to share their beliefs. Implementing training and running awareness-raising initiatives were cited as key steps for helping colleagues to understand more about Hindu festivals and practices.
As well as education, developing and enforcing effective policies and procedures that account for religious diversity were highlighted as ways organisations could make religious expression easier for Hindus. This includes revising bullying and harassment procedures and flexible working policies.
Binna Kandola said: “Successful, long-term change depends on building inclusive cultures, where valuing differences and supporting each other is the norm. For this to happen, organisations across the country need to commit to diversity and inclusion; action cannot be limited to one-off initiatives. Leaders and employees must make a consistent effort to ensure everybody feels safe to be their authentic selves.”
This is the first in a series of reports examining religious expression in the workplace, with upcoming research examining Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and Buddhism.
Download the report here.