Conference on Culture and Faith in the Workplace
On November 9th 2011, Skills for Change presented its third annual diversity@work conference at the KPMG corporate head office in Toronto with Senator Don Meredith as the morning keynote speaker. Nearly 200 of Canada’s leading employers, HR professionals and leaders from numerous community- and faith-based organizations attended the event.
The conference theme was culture and faith in the workplace -- examining how Canadian employers can create more inclusive and productive workplaces by providing space for employees to bring their full selves to work.
Moderated by Ayman Al-Yassini, Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, a diverse panel of leaders from various faith and spiritual communities discussed the role religion plays for many employees across Canada and the importance of recognizing this in diversity management practices. Among the panelists was Michael Skaljin, Executive Director of the Interfaith Social Associate Reform Coalition, Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, Secretary General for the Canadian Council of Churches, Winston Shyam Liaquat Kassim, Chair of the International Development and Relief Foundation and Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Senior Rabbi of the Beth Tzedec Congegration.
The afternoon workshop sessions covered themes important to companies and organizations pursuing the development of better diversity policies that affect employees who adhere to a faith or spiritual practice. Iain Benson, Senior Associate Counsel at Miller Thomson, presented a workshop on the need for the workplace to understand the dual role religion and the law plays while Nadir Shirazi, Program Coordinator at the University of Toronto's Multi-Faith Centre for Spiritual Study and Practice, examined how the traditional understanding of workplace accommodation needs to go deeper if employers want to have inclusive workplaces. Imam Michael AbdurRashid Taylor, Director of Islamic Chaplaincy Services Canada, led a discussion on pushing the boundaries of traditional religious accommodation.
A common thread of discussion was evident among the conference presenters. As Moira Wong, a diversity specialist at the Toronto School Board District, noted in her workshop, the personal barriers to faith at work involve learning opportunities that can encourage people to understand each other without bias. Michael Charles, lawyer and proprietor of Change DeZign Consulting, discussed the impact of conflicts at work involving faith and approaches that can alleviate related compounding issues. Rabbi Dr. Roy Tanenbaum, President, Vice-chancellor and Professor of Bible at the The Canadian Yeshiva & Rabbinical School, engaged his participants with a cantor-led rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine, using the song’s lyrics as the baseline for discussion on the impact of religion at work.
The one-day conference, while comprehensive, served as a catalyst for future directions to be determined by employers who choose to improve their diversity management practices. A sold-out conference with a vast majority of its participants having reported that they were looking forward to sharing what they learned with their colleagues, tells us that workplaces in Canada have a strong desire to develop better practices in the area of diversity management.
Andrew Chung is a Communications Lead at Skills for Change.