By Laurie Trousil, Manager-Diversity & Inclusion, Ameriprise Financial
Any business that has sanctioned employee resource groups has had to wrestle with the question of faith-based groups. Ameriprise Financial has had faith-based ERGs since 1998 when our SALT Christian Network launched. We have since sanctioned a CHAI Jewish Interest Network (2003) and a MECCA Muslim Network (2010). However, I often speak to D & I professionals from other companies that are just now starting the dialogue about faith-based ERGs. For many, it is a conversation that brings anxiety and uncertainty.
In terms of benchmarking, there are four avenues down which organizations can tread:
Reject all faith-based groups
– Pro: Rejecting all such groups will prevent further deliberation about the future of faith-based ERGs because none will be allowed.
– Con: One key element of diversity and an employee’s whole self (including his or her spirituality) will be denied from fully entering into the workplace.
Permit non-sanctioned faith-based groups to exist within the organization
– Pros: The business can allow employees with similar spiritual beliefs to meet; yet will not be responsible for budgeting money for the groups.
– Con: Non-sanctioned groups will not be able to advance business initiatives as would ERGs with guidelines, goals and a budget.
Create multiple, sanctioned faith-based ERGs based on religious affiliation; i.e. Muslim Resource Group, Hindu Resource Group, Jewish Resource Group, etc.
– Pro: As with other ERGs, faith-based ERGs will be able to contribute by advancing business goals.
– Con: Once the company allows one faith-based ERG to form, they must give equal consideration to all potential groups who go through the application process – including those affiliations that may be negatively perceived by other employees or the community
Create one interfaith ERG made up of members representing a multitude of different systems of faith (or lack of faith)
– Pro: Collective decision-making in one ERG by members of a multitude of spiritual backgrounds can simplify an ERG program by decreasing potential employee disunity caused by numerous groups based on religious affiliation.
– Con: The potential for conflict within an interfaith ERG could be higher than within a group whose members have shared values and perspectives.
When making the decision as to whether or not faith-based ERGs are right for your company, always remember to:
– Put concrete policies and procedures in place to prevent ambivalence as well as protect the organization against litigation.
– Determine if and how an ERG(s) will advance the organization’s bottom line.
– Do your homework. Research what other companies are doing with regards to faith-based ERGs and model the practices that are most applicable to your organization.
In the end, no one can tell you what is right for your organization. Sanctioning faith-based ERGs must be a collective decision between D & I leaders and executives to determine whether or not they can add value to your business.