Houston, TX- New research reveals just how common religious discrimination is in the workplace. A team from Rice University says two-thirds of Muslims, half of Jews and more than a third of evangelical Protestant Christians all say they face some form of discrimination related to their religious beliefs at work. While discriminatory experiences differ between religions, these findings suggest a broader and troubling trend regarding religion in the workplace.
“When we conducted interviews, we were able to dig deeper into how people experience religious discrimination,” says study lead author Rachel Schneider, a postdoctoral fellow in Rice’s Religion and Public Life Program (RPLP), in a university statement. “We found it wasn’t just about hiring, firing and promoting, which is what people usually think about.”
In general, members of all three faiths reported experiencing workplace negativity, social exclusion, stereotyping, and even harmful or demeaning comments. Specifically, both Muslims and Jews say they feel particularly targeted by “anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic rhetoric related to being seen as part of a larger group”.
Evangelical Christians, on the other hand, reported feeling “isolated” when discussing various topics due to their moral views.
“Sometimes they were called ‘Ms. Holy’ or ‘Holy Roller’, and many evangelical Christians felt they were perceived as being judgmental, narrow-minded and/or right-wing,” Schneider adds.
Study co-author Denise Daniels, Hudson T. Harrison Professor of Entrepreneurship at Wheaton College, adds that many Christians reported feeling isolated at work because of their religion.
“It was due to their co-workers’ assumptions about the kinds of conversations or events outside of work that they would want to participate in,” she explains.
Stigma around the celebration of religious holidays
All three faiths said they felt particularly uncomfortable at work if they asked to observe a religious holiday or wore religious clothing at work, specifically citing “negative experiences” with senior managers and direct colleagues. This was especially true among Muslims and Jews.
“Identity concealment is often used by people who are part of stigmatized groups,” comments study co-author Deidra Coleman, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston. “It’s a proactive way to ‘deal’ with anticipated religious discrimination, but it can have negative effects on mental health.”
According to lead researcher Elaine Howard Ecklund, director of the RPLP and the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences at Rice, this study should prompt employers to reconsider how they discuss, manage and prevent religious discrimination in the workplace. .
“I think a good lesson for human resources divisions is that for people to feel welcome and comfortable in the workplace, it takes more than specialty foods and places to pray,” concludes -she. “These day-to-day interactions between co-workers are incredibly important, but it’s harder to address without proper training. Workplace training should include exercises that specifically target all forms of religious discrimination.
The study is published in the journal Socius: Sociological research for a dynamic world.