How Members of Three Religions Experience Discrimination in the Workplace Differently

Members of the world’s three major religions face discrimination in the workplace, but each experiences it differently, according to new research.

Researchers from the Rice University Religion and Public Life Program (RPLP) drew their conclusions based on an analysis of 194 in-depth interviews with Muslim, Jewish, Christian and non-religious employees to determine how members of each group perceived their experiences of workplace discrimination.

“When we conducted interviews, we were able to dig deeper into how people experience religious discrimination,” said Rachel Schneider, postdoctoral fellow at RPLP and lead author of “How Religious Discrimination is Perceived in the Workplace: Broadening view”. said in a press release.

“We found it wasn’t just about hiring, firing and promoting, which are the things people usually think about,” Schneider added.

The authors identified during their interviews a variety of slights, including what they called verbal microaggressions, stereotyping, and social exclusion. Still, there were notable differences between the group experiences. While Muslims, Jews and non-religious workers reported being discriminated against due to group stereotyping, Christians said they were discriminated against after taking a moral stance.

“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 said.

“It was due to co-workers’ assumptions about the kinds of conversations or events outside of work that they would want to participate in,” she added.


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Data was analyzed from interviews with 159 Christians, 13 Jews, 10 Muslims and 12 non-religious respondents.

Each group described feeling uncomfortable when asking for time off to observe holidays or when wearing religious clothing in the workplace. But Muslims and Jews, according to the researchers, felt the greatest need to conceal their religious identity at work.

“Identity concealment is often used by people who are part of stigmatized groups,” said 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.”

Lead researcher Elaine Howard Ecklund said a takeaway for employers’ human resources departments is that inclusive spaces need more than “specialty foods and places to pray.”

“These day-to-day interactions between co-workers are extremely important, but are harder to address without the proper education,” Ecklund continued. “Workplace training should include exercises that specifically target all forms of religious discrimination.”

How is religious discrimination perceived in the workplace? Widen view was first released on January 24.


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