By Dennis Sadowski | Catholic News Service
CLEVELAND (CNS) — Executives at companies with a diverse workforce have found employee resource groups to be an asset because they give workers a voice in something other than routine work activities.
But starting such a group, known as an ERG, takes more than simply pulling together people with a shared interest, be it religion, culture, gender, sexual orientation or social concern, said Paul Lambert, senior corporate adviser for the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation.
“Understanding the demographics or the diversity of the company is critical,” Lambert said in a prerecorded session Feb. 10 during the second National Faith@Work ERG Conference.
The three-day conference looked at faith-based ERGs in the workplace. It was sponsored by the foundation and the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America.
Lambert’s work focuses on religious diversity in the workplace. He said the foundation often leads training sessions with business executives wondering if starting an ERG is a good fit in their particular corporate environment.
Having one or more ERGs in place depends on the needs of a company, Lambert said, explaining that “every training is different.”
“Oftentimes the first question we get is, ‘What’s the thing we can do that will solve faith in the workplace questions?’ The answer is there is no silver bullet because no companies are the same. No two workplaces are the same,” he said.
For executives, addressing religion in the workplace can be “scary,” Lambert admitted, because faith is personal and people may not feel comfortable talking about their beliefs, especially if they are not mainstream.
Lambert and the foundation advise companies to take the first step and explore if a faith-based ERG is the right fit. Once established, the work does not end though.
“One of the biggest challenges they don’t see is that they’ve confused doing something for success,” Lambert said. Once an ERG is started, it needs continuing support to help it to evolve to meet workers’ needs, he said.
Lambert has seen that a faith-based ERG is usually welcomed quickly by employees who are seeking understanding and respect across what some perceive as wide divides between religions.
He said he often tells business leaders and managers that it is important to “understand that my accommodation (of religion) isn’t a threat to their accommodation, and their accommodation isn’t a threat to my accommodation.”
“There’s so much beauty in allowing anyone, me or my religious colleague or my atheist colleague, whoever it is, to bring all that they are to work.”