Religion at work | Sunak as PM is a D&I milestone, but ordinary working Hindus need more change

Sunak as PM is a D&I milestone, but ordinary working Hindus need more change

Rishi Sunak will mark one month as Prime Minister this week, having taken over from the shortest-lived PM in British history, Liz Truss.

In assuming office, Sunak became the UK’s first ever prime minister of colour and also the first Hindu to do so - both of which were, quite obviously, hailed as milestones for the country’s diversity.

However, despite this truly historic moment, a new report reveals a lack of inclusivity and representation for Hindus in UK workplaces.

Religion at Work: Experiences of Hindu Employees, published today by leading business-psychology consultancy, Pearn Kandola - is the first in a series of reports looking at religious expression in the workplace, with upcoming research examining Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and Buddhism.

Key figures among the findings include:

  • 38% of UK-based Hindu employees have had an annual leave request to celebrate a religious festival rejected without good reason

  • Only 5% feel that their organisation is happy for them to take time off for religious festivals

  • Almost a third (32%) do not feel comfortable discussing religious festivals at work

  • 93% of UK-based Hindu employees who wear religious dress choose not to do so at work

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 the majority of the workforce was white. This lack of diversity has left a lot of Hindu employees feeling that they cannot express their religious identity freely.

Restrictive policies and not enough awareness around Hindu beliefs and practices are exacerbating 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 Hindus at work demonstrates we need to express caution around 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 Hindus feeling unable to express their faith openly, the research delved into attitudes and policy around religious festivals and dress. 93% 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. In fact, 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 chose not to express their religious beliefs at work due to personal preferences, there is another group who 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 freely express their religious identity.”

What can organisations do to drive change?

It is clear that organisations across the UK need to take action to raise awareness and build inclusive cultures. 35% 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 make them feel more encouraged 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 concluded: “Successful, long-term change is dependent 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.”

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