In this faith-focused episode, explored from Jewish, Christian and Sikh perspectives, host Julia Streets is joined by Zaki Cooper, Co-Founder of Faiths United, Wes Ilingsworth, Lead of the City Team at St. Helen’s Bishopsgate and Syra Sanghera, Analyst at Man Group and ambassador for City Sikhs and founding member of the Faiths United Youth Network.
Julia, Zaki, Wes and Syra discuss the complex topic of faith as an intrinsic part of personal identity, how it impacts how and for whom we work and organisational structures. They share ideas and best practice about how to create faith-friendly organisations and how to promote a culture of inclusion.
Together they explore remote working and religious practices, the role of faith in garnering corporate resilience, the dynamics of faith and ethnicity, the challenges of intersectionality, and the legal, moral and economic reasons why diversity and inclusion matters right now.
Research mentioned in this episode: Déclic International – 9 actions to create a faith-friendly workplace
Zaki is passionate about inter-faith, stemming from his time working for then-Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He is the co-founder of Faiths United, a coalition of faith leaders and activists responding to the Covid crisis. He is also a Trustee of two inter-faith charities. In 2019, he was invited to deliver a TEDx Talk, “One Earth and Many Religions.” Zaki is founder of a consultancy advising leaders and family offices on their philanthropy and communications. As well as the Chief Rabbi, he has previously worked as an Assistant Press Secretary at Buckingham Palace, for a family office and in the corporate sector. He has spoken and written widely, including co-author of a book on cricket grounds, and numerous articles online and in newspapers.
Syra currently works as an analyst within the Middle Office team at Man Group. She strives to be a champion of diversity and inclusion in the finance industry and is involved in numerous networks and working groups both internally at Man Group, such as NextGen, Women at Man, and externally as well as an ambassador for City Sikhs and founding member of Faiths United Youth Network. You can find City Sikhs on Twitter: @citysikhs. You can also find Faith United Youth Network on Twitter: @FaithsUnitedYN
Wes leads the City team at St Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate which seeks to enable City workers to know Jesus Christ and make him known in and around their workplaces.
Series Nine, Episode Five Transcript
Julia: Hello, my name is Julia Streets, and welcome to DiverCity Podcast, talking about equality, inclusion, and diversity in financial services. On the podcast we seek to shine a light on positive progress, call out areas requiring further focus and offer lots of ideas to help drive change.
Today I’m delighted to be joined by not two, but three guests. I’m delighted to be joined by Syra Sanghera, Wes Illingsworth and Zaki Cooper. Let me tell you a bit about them before I introduce them. Syra Sanghera currently works as an Analyst within the middle office team at Man Group. She strives to be a champion of diversity and inclusion in the industry, and she does that by being involved in numerous networks and working groups both internally at Man Group, such as NextGen, Women at Man, and externally as well as an ambassador for City Sikhs, and is a founding member of Faiths United Youth Group. Syra, wonderful to see you. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Syra: Hi Julia. Thank you for inviting me here today.
Julia: Great to have you on the show. Joining Syra today is Zaki. Zaki Cooper is passionate about interfaith stemming from his time working for then Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He is the co-founder of Faiths United, a trustee of two interfaith charities, and also gave a Ted Talk on the subject last year. His day job is focused on advising leaders and family offices on their philanthropy and communications. Zaki, thanks so much for joining us today. Great to see you.
Zaki: It’s great to be here Julia. Thank you.
Julia: And last but no means least, I’m delighted to be joined by Wes Illingsworth who leads the City team at St. Helen’s Church Bishopsgate. St. Helen’s seeks to enable city workers to know Jesus Christ and make him known in and around their workplaces. Wes, thanks for joining us. Great to see you.
Wes: Thanks Julia. Thanks for having me on.
Julia: This is a very important subject. It’s the one we probably don’t talk about nearly enough of, which is faith in financial services, and we have listeners all around the world and I’m really delighted to be here dedicating some time to this and thank you all for joining us. We thought it was important to have more than just two guests because interfaith, ecumenical conversation can’t necessarily just focus on one or two religions. So, I’m delighted that we have three guests joining us today as well. I do just want to just talk about what’s going on right now. We ask all our guests when we first join, we’re recording this in October, 2020. What is your particular focus for the remainder of 2020? Syra, I’m going to come to you first of all.
Syra: I’d say to continue to build on my network and also to find new ways to position the organisations I’m involved in to cater to this new normal. It seems likely that we will not be coming out of lockdown before the end of this year. So, just trying to ensure that we continue to learn and grow and champion those around us.
Julia: It is incredibly important, isn’t it, that we’re looking out for the individuals and also what the networks are thinking about as well. Thank you very much, indeed. These are, as you say, extraordinary times. Wes, really keen to hear what you’re focused on, particularly as we’re going into, the Advent season.
Wes: Thanks Julia. yes, two big things I think we’re focusing on at the moment as Syra was saying, because so many City workers are working from home and are anxious, worried, or just generally affected by COVID, I guess we’re trying to do a lot at the moment to help City workers engaged with the good news of Jesus through virtual and online channels, giving people as many opportunities as we can to investigate claims of Jesus for themselves in Zoom calls and various online things.
Christmas is the second big thing. I guess a lot of people are feeling Christmas might be a bit of a disappointment this year. So, we are really going to be doing our best to bring Christmas to the City. We want to give as many people as possible the chance to hear and celebrate the joy of Christmas that Christ the Saviour has come into the world. Normally we’d have lots of big set piece carol services in the building, and we’ll still have some of those, but this year we’re really trying to encourage City workers who are Christians to put on Christmas events for their colleagues, to share the joy of Christmas with those around them in imaginative and creative ways.
Julia: You say about the imaginative and creative ways we’re having to use different platforms and different tools that, of course, the congregation of people, of whatever faith or in whatever capacity is being called into question at the moment in terms of the ability to get people together. It is an incredible time if we want to re-imagine how to engage with their congregations and their networks as well. Thank you for that. Zaki, I’d love to ask you the same question. What are you focused on?
Zaki: I think I’d split it into my personal and professional goals. I think personally it’s really about counting my blessings, staying healthy, appreciating what I have, and looking after those around me. There’s a lovely part in Jewish scriptures in the Ethics of the Fathers, which talks about happiness being about someone who’s happy with what they have. It’s about wanting what you have, not having what you want in essence. I think there’s a lot to be said for that, and I think these last several months of COVID have taught us all to reflect and evaluate. And I think professionally, I want to continue to do a good job for my clients, obviously, but also help them behave responsibly and look after those around you. I think this is a time where we all need to look around us beyond our own immediate concerns. Look around our family, friends, neighbourhoods, communities, and look out for those who are vulnerable and in need of help. I hope to do that both, as I said, in my personal behaviour, but also professionally.
Julia: I mentioned in my opening remarks about you about advising businesses in philanthropy. This is not a conversation today about charity necessarily in the institutional sense and how they are basically being able to raise funds, but the importance of philanthropy in everyday personal interactions and behaviours, and also corporate behaviours as well is really interesting.
Zaki: Absolutely. I mean, the City is a great source of philanthropy and faith communities are also a great source of charity and philanthropy. Around 30% of all charities in the UK are faith-based. This is an important time now for, I think people in the City and faith communities to step up and do as much as possible as the needs become so enormous and acute.
Julia: Absolutely. Let me stay with you, Zaki, if I may. I’d like to begin to explore, if you don’t mind, how faith has affected your working life and your career.
Zaki: I think it’s affected it in different ways. I’ve always worn my faith, my Jewish identity proudly on my sleeve. It’s an integral part of who I am and what I am, and it does actually impact in some practical ways in terms of diet. I keep kosher. It impacts also in terms of the Sabbath, I keep the Sabbath. That means I don’t work on a Friday afternoon in the winter months because the Sabbath comes in early at that point. It also impacts in terms of not being around on Jewish holidays and festivals. What I found is if you’re proud about your own identity, people will respond accordingly. But, if you’re uneasy and uncomfortable about your identity, people feel uneasy or uncomfortable about it towards you.
I’ve never encountered any particular problems, and as I say, when I used to work in the City, I used to work for a large international bank with people of all different faiths and backgrounds, and I was able to bring my Jewish identity into my work environment. What I found is that I often bonded with people from other religions amongst colleagues. I would know that, for example, when phoning a colleague in the Middle East, if I need to get hold of them on a Friday, it was difficult. It was their day off, so I couldn’t do that, but I was attuned to that. I think I was naturally attuned to that. So yes, it’s always been something that I brought into my working life.
Julia: And I love your comment about wearing your identity proudly. This comes through in so many discussions we have in DiverCity Podcast about whatever your identity is, the way that people respond to it in terms of how you project it and own it, if you like, which is really fascinating. Syra, I would love to come to you. I mentioned in the introduction that you’re an ambassador for City Sikhs, and also a founding member of the Faiths United Youth Network as well. Similar question to you really, which is how faith has affected and impacted and driven maybe your working life in financial services.
Syra: I think there’s two sides to consider; the actual work that I do and the social nature of working in financial services. On the side of my career, I think my faith has made me more conscious of responsible investing in ESG. There’s obviously been a general increase in awareness of these topics, but the concepts of stewardship, sharing for the benefit of society and building an inclusive community are written into the teachings of my faith. These are just some of the things that have an impact on what industry I want to work in and what kind of firm I want to work for.
In terms of the social side, faith can often have an effect on things that others might not think of, such as what someone chooses to eat or drink. I think that having clearly labelled foods such as what is vegetarian and equivalent, non-alcoholic drinks can go such a long way in making a difference in helping someone of a particular faith feel more comfortable. I’d say my faith, or maybe more my culture has also helped me stand out and get involved in more things than just my day-to-day job. At Man Group, one thing we used to do was a Lunch and Learn series where we celebrated cultural festivals as they came up. We’d bring in food and drink from that particular culture, and we’d engage with those celebrating the festival and learn something new. As we’re remote working now, we’re looking at ways to move this online so we can continue celebrating, even if we’re not all together in the office.
Julia: It’s really wonderful to hear you talk about those different perspectives as well, because certainly in financial services, as people know, is in my world, the subject around environmental, social and governance investment is prevalent. Everybody’s talking about it. And of course, it’s fascinating to hear you talk about your faith and your background and the contribution that makes to even how you’re thinking and contributing with that part of the industry, which is really important.
The point about food and drink, this is really interesting. This comes up a lot. We think about how so often it was Thursday night drinks in a pub. We come from that world, The City is very synonymous with those sorts of behaviours, Friday night drinks. And being very attuned, and I love this word, wear your identity proudly. Be very attuned to different cultural and also faith dynamics and what that means in terms of even down into, and I say, even not as an end excuse, but actually as a really dominant part of people’s behaviour, culture, identity, what people eat and drink, and also throughout the entire calendar year. Because if you’re thinking about Islam and Ramadan, of course, as well.
Thank you so much for those thoughts. Wes, I’d love to come to you as well, you’re engaging with City institutions, financiers to encourage their faith and their relationship with faith as well. How do you engage or how does that work?
Wes: A whole range of ways, I suppose. Let me give you flavour of what we’re trying to do. So, we’re trying to reach out to Christians who work in the City, but also people who wouldn’t call themselves Christians. Maybe they’re very cynical, or maybe they’re curious enquirers, but what we’re trying to give everyone the chance to find out more about Jesus, and we do that in different ways. We have weekly lunchtime talks, 20 minute talks from the Bible, trying to show Christians more about Jesus and show unbelievers who he is and how they could benefit knowing him. We hold discussion groups that might take the form, these days are over Zoom, but in the old days before COVID it might happen in a pub or in an office where a handful of people would meet together. Someone might give a short presentation on Jesus, and then people can ask questions and raise their objections and knock it around.
We have groups of people who go out on the streets as city pastors trying to serve city workers in the evening. There’s not many of them at the moment, but also homeless people and other people just knocking around in the City. We have Bible study groups, groups of people wanting to really interrogate the claims of Christianity for themselves by joining a course where they can ask as many questions as they want. And then, we engage corporately in inviting companies to things like our Remembrance service and big things like carol services at this time of year. A range, from the individual to the biggest scale. A lot of people as well find it useful to just meet with one other person to talk through their questions, their concerns, have a look at the eyewitness evidence for Jesus themselves. We found that it’s been really popular over the last few years. A lot of people find that a useful way to find that questions in a way that’s quite informal, and they don’t have to expose themselves in front of big groups of people.
Julia: When we think thereabout, so the role that you’re playing and the things that you’re thinking about, what I’d really like to do now, building on all three of your comments really, is pivot the conversation slightly in terms of thinking about organisational structures and organisational behaviours as well. I guess my question is, what does a faith-friendly organisation look like? And any examples of best practise. Wes, let me stay with you on that question. You talked about what you offer, I’d love to hear your thoughts about what organisations in your parish you’re thinking about.
Wes: I emailed a handful of the City workers that are part of the congregation here to ask their views on it. Some negative examples and some really, really positive examples. Let me just give you a few of them and see what you think.
I think a lot of people feel quite negative about the diversity and inclusion agenda, I guess, because they feel that often it’s quite a superficial thing. I think we all fall into it in one way or another, but we want to have, perhaps, a website that shows lots of different people on it. But then, I guess to really celebrate diversity, you need to allow people to express their different views and different opinions. I think that’s where quite a lot of companies seem to fall down is that they’re happy with the superficial kind of virtue signalling, but when it comes to allowing people to really say what they believe that’s where people feel much, much less comfortable.
A few examples. There’s one guy who wanted to organise an event a couple of years ago around Easter to help friends and colleagues ask him about what Easter’s all about and what it means for Jesus to have died and risen again, and his company just wouldn’t allow that to happen, but they would allow other activities for other groups to do things. We’ve heard that thing quite a few times, and that particular individual, even more recently thought, “Well, I can’t do that, but I could at least I’ll bring in some hot cross buns to colleagues,” which sounds really small. But even that he got rebuked for doing that. I think that’s probably quite an extreme example. But the example of not being able to put on events and publicly make those known to other colleagues, I think that’s the big thing where Christians sometimes feel other groups are allowed to do that, but we’re not allowed to do that.
I think a positive one someone talked about an event at a big bank where the board were there and they made it really clear that they want people to bring their whole selves to the company when they come into work, whatever their beliefs, their background. They want to make it clear that that’s not something they should keep to themselves, to the private sphere, but that’s actually something they should discuss and bring out publicly at work. Quite a few of the banks, big law firms, they aren’t doing that. They’re encouraging all groups in their company to put on events that say, actually, this is what we believe and allow others to engage with that. Those have been the really positive things that we’ve seen over the last few years.
Julia: I think what’s interesting about that is when organisations are talking about a culture of inclusion, which we see a lot of this in the brochure-ware, is that’s beautiful evidence of actually taking that seriously and also then proactively doing something about it by allowing the identity, as Zaki was saying, to be so proudly shone through as well. Zaki, You advise corporates as well. When we think about faith-friendly organisations, any thoughts to share?
Zaki: Yes, absolutely. I mean, it takes me back to a talk I heard by Lord Griffiths, Brian Griffiths, several years ago on this subject. He proposed the following typology. He talks about faith-friendly, faith-neutral and faith-based. And I think I’ve worked in organisations of all types; faith-based when I worked for the Chief Rabbi’s office, faith-neutral, not doing it so well and faith-friendly. I think the features of a faith-friendly company is a company that understands that each person needs to be treated as an individual, and that people of faith may have particular needs in relation to things like diet, prayer, time off for Sabbath, or special festivals during the year. I think a faith-framing company not just tolerates their employees of faith, but appreciates them.
I think a good example of a former boss of mine at the bank who on the Friday afternoon would be looking at the clock thinking, “Shouldn’t you be going home soon? It’s the Sabbath.” He would be more worried about me getting home on time than I would be sometimes. He was really a fantastic example. I think a mature company that’s faith-friendly can also see the benefit in some of the values that people bring to the workplace and also the networks and the business opportunities. Just to give one quick example, the Islamic finance market, absolutely massive, worth $2.4 trillion. There are opportunities to be pursued through people of faith as well.
Julia: Most definitely. In fact, one of our previous episodes in this season was particularly talking about Islamic financial market as well. So yes, absolutely. I love your three definitions of faith-friendly, faith-neutral and faith-based as well.
Syra, from your experience, and again, through the networks that you’ve been with, I’d love to hear your thoughts about what organisations should be focusing on to become faith-friendly.
Syra: I mentioned the Lunch and Learn series earlier on. I think that the reason why that works is because people feel confident in wanting to put on displays of their own culture, share their own culture. I think when you have an environment where you’re provided with that autonomy and responsibility, you begin to feel confident in speaking up and speaking out. I think that’s really helpful in terms of faith-based activities.
Julia: I think that’s an incredibly salient point, which is about if you want to have high-performing teams of confident people, to allow the identity to be worn so proudly. These words you bring, Zaki, really stick with me all the way through the interview, but also to let people have a voice and be proud to have the voice, and to stand tall with the voice as well, which is really, really important. Zaki, I’m going to come back to you if you don’t mind, which is a point about, we’ve talked a little bit about ESG and we’ve talked about the business potential that’s on offer as well. Any other reasons why financial services firms, and not only in the UK, but also around the world need to take faith seriously?
Zaki: Financial services is one of the great sectors of our economy. It’s a jewel in the crown of the UK. So, I think whatever we’re talking about, whatever aspect of D&I, it needs to be in the lead, at least on a par or ahead of other sectors. Why is faith important? I mean, look at the data. The last census carried out in 2011 showed that around 70% of the British population identify with a faith. It doesn’t mean they’re all super religious. We know that they’re not because attendance at places of worship is a bit patchy, but it does mean that faith is important to lots of people. Actually, if you look at the global figures, they’re much higher than in the UK. I mean, in general terms about 85% of the world’s population identifies with a faith.
As a result of that, it’s obvious that all boards should be taking faith seriously. There are people amongst their staff, amongst their clients and their customers who are people of faith; it’s an intrinsic part of their identity. I talked a little bit before, I think we all talked about the potential business opportunity. It’s amazing now where you see some of the big banks and other firms doing Diwali events or Hannukah events, obviously Christmas events, and I think that’s fantastic business and opportunity for others to learn about different festivals.
The final point I’d make is that business and the City is one of the best tools for interfaith there is. You may not even realise it, but when you come into the workplace, you’re mixing with people of all sorts of different ethnicities, races, nationalities, backgrounds. And actually that’s the way you learn about them, through these friendships or relationships you build up in the workplace. I think it’s really, really important.
Julia: Wonderful. Wes, I’d like to come back, I saw you nodding along there with comments as well. We were talking earlier about some good examples and also perhaps some not so positive examples of corporate behaviour as well. I mean, I’d love to hear. Do you have any other observations of best practise that you would recommend to the listeners where financial services do put faith at the forefront of what they do?
Wes: Yes, just building on almost Zaki is saying, I guess the current situation makes it clear, doesn’t it, that we don’t have the answers to lots of big questions that we faced solely in the economy or in our material wealth or what our companies do. I think companies have recognised that, I think we noticed at the beginning of lockdown, there was a greater openness to hear the answers that people have. And so, we found when Christians were saying, “Can I put on an event?” Think about hope in the face of anxiety or death, the companies were much more positive about that than they had been previously.
I think that’s quite encouraging that people are willing to say actually, yes, we do need to look outside of our own company for answers that answers to the big things that we’re going through at the moment. If there’s genuine diversity where people can say, “Actually, this is what I believe. This is what I look to for answers,” and we can discuss that and engage with that, then we’ll help each other. Whereas, if we’re not able to do that, then we’re just stuck with the answers of the politics and the economics that we know doesn’t provide the ultimate answers that we need. Is that what you meant?
Julia: It does, yes, definitely. It sort of channels back to, again, what Zaki was saying at the opener of the conversation about when we think about what we’re focused on right now is that people are deeply anxious. People are concerned. People are facing not only situations we’ve never been in before, but also a path ahead that is going to be, well again, uncertain really. So, there’s so much to be learned from, and to benefit people while they are navigating their own personal relationship with uncertainty as well. And of course, listening to people, talk about hope and talk about how people are processing, considering, dealing, and also engaging with each other in terms of networks and fellowships as well matters as well.
Syra, I’d love to come to you. The question which kicks around our heads a lot when we talk about diversity inclusion, about inclusion and belonging, and we’ve been talking a lot about both of those. But also, the importance of reaching out to every corner of society. Right now, when we think about navigating the pandemic, there are some individuals who are younger and either isolated because they don’t have families of their own necessarily, or they’re not living with a family. We think a lot about social inclusion and we think about ethnic minority representation as well. What I do want to do is I don’t want to lump them all together by any way, shape or form and I just want to make that crystal clear, but I am thinking that there is a faith dynamic to ethnic minority heritage, and there is a faith dynamic to social inclusion as well. And I just wonder and I’d love to hear your thoughts about, when we’re thinking about reaching out to other members of society, is there a faith-based conversation to be had?
Syra: Firstly, I have to say that I feel like inclusion is more of a behaviour, the way that an organisation acts to include a diverse range of people. However belonging is truly accepting and celebrating those individual differences of that diverse range of people. I think the first thing that needs to be done at the top level is breaking down the preconceptions that the world of finance is unachievable. It’s a very, very broad industry with a range of different roles, requiring different skills. I think what can be done is providing education on what the different parts of finance do and how they should plan for a career in finance. Plus focusing on developing soft skills, such as interviewing, writing emails or even how to handshake, if we ever move back to handshakes.
I remember I did a volunteering day through my workplace at a school in East London where we were providing CV and interview training. The first thing I did was ask each member of my group to just shake my hand, and then shake it again and again, until it was strong enough and confident enough. It’s just not something you necessarily learn at school, but once they have these skills, they’ll arrive at an interview or the workplace with a solid foundation to build on. I’m now looking at running a programme through the NextGen network at Man Group to address this.
But there are some incredible organisations out there that a lot of finance firms already work with, such as SEO, City Gateway, Bright Network, that are involved and focused towards the ethnic minorities or those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds. My advice to those that are at school or university is just to engage with as many as you can and take on that advice and get the experience that helps you stand out.
In regards to the connection with my faith, my faith personally advocates for selfless service or Seva. I think it’s important to give back what you can, even if it’s just time, knowledge, and skills. I think my faith plays a large part in my involvement in all the organisations I’m a part of, and I want to do my best to help, especially for the next generation coming through.
Julia: Wonderful. I think that’s a great moment to turn to Cynthia for some research to support today’s discussion.
Cynthia: The 2017 Déclic International article outlines the nine actions to create a faith-friendly workplace.
- Identify and challenge religious biases.
- Use a structured process to assess religious requests.
- Be open to accommodating employees’ religious practises.
- Consider holiday requests for religious reasons just like any other request.
- Check religious festivals calendars when planning events and meetings.
- Consider dietary restrictions.
- Be mindful of people’s modesty values.
- Raise your team’s awareness about religious diversity.
- Use religious events to strengthen relations within the team.
By doing so, you are answering the following questions: Are you being fair? Are you treating others as they’d like to be treated? And are you accelerating positive change?
Julia: Thanks, Cynthia. The links to the research can be found on our website, divercitypodcast.com. That’s where you can find all our episodes and sign up for early notifications of future recordings. Please do follow us on Twitter @divercitypod, and DiverCity Podcast is available on BrightTALK and all good podcast channels. We’d love a rating because it all helps to promote the show.
Wes, something you were saying earlier about corporate structures, and we’ve obviously been talking about personal identities, networks, the conversation about intersection as well, love your thoughts.
Wes: One of the big issues that a lot of the guys mentioned is probably around things like the LGBT networks and companies, and things like Black Lives Matter and that sort of thing, where companies will say in the name of diversity and inclusion, they will say you need to signal your support for this organisation, or people are encouraged really strongly to say that they’re linking up with an organisation, with the Pride movement or with the organisation of Black Lives Matter.
I think quite a lot of Christians will respond to that by thinking, Jesus loves everyone. I’m here to be compassionate and to reach out to everyone. I want to totally stand with gay colleagues, trans-gender colleagues, and make sure that they’re not excluded or treated unfairly. I want to make sure that black colleagues are treated as well as everyone else, but because of my beliefs, I don’t sign up to the organisation of Pride and what that stands for. I don’t want to be aligned with Black Lives Matter because if I go to the Black Lives Matter website, I can see that it’s not actually just about race. It’s actually saying we don’t agree with the family and we’re quite a Marxist organisation, or do you see what I mean?
So people, their own beliefs mean that actually they don’t want to be aligned with the ideology of Pride or the ideology of that particular organisation. But then, they’re put under pressure to wear a lanyard, to put something on their email to promote that. And if they try to raise that and say, “Look, I’m totally with equality. I’m called not only to be tolerant, but I’m called to love everybody.” But, they’re not heard in that. They’re just heard as, well you’re either going to support this or you’re going to be condemned as homophobic.
Julia: What advice would you give organisations about, first off, being mindful of it and also addressing it?
Wes: It’s a good question. I think by just simply pushing the positive values of equality and everyone is welcomed by making clear that that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to agree with everything that goes behind that. There is room for discussion and for people to explain what they believe. And I’m sure that, I think that Muslim people that I know would struggle with that as well. It’s, are you allowed to say what you actually think and to have the time and the space to explain that, or are you just going to be ruled out, I think that’s where people feel really fearful. If they say in the work sphere what they actually think about something, there’s an immediate jump on that. It’s not really diversity. It’s actually everyone has to think the same and everyone has to believe the same things.
Julia: In the framework of diversity and inclusion, we talk a lot about the importance of intersectionality and how networks are aligning with each other and also supporting each other and coming together. It’s important not to lose the essence of what people feel and what people believe. Zaki, can I ask you the same question? Anything else that you’re keen to bring out?
Zaki: I think that was a really interesting point that Wes just made. Very interesting point and very well put. These are delicate matters, but I’ve seen it a lot from my own community, the different sections of the Jewish community in relation to the gay community. It’s been quite interesting because the current Chief Rabbi has really gone out on a limb striking up a relationship with a group, I think it’s called Keshet, which is a group that’s set up by Jewish people who are LGBT. And he’s really gone out on a limb, I think he wrote a foreword for one of their publications, which is a big statement. But that is also much criticised by some sections of the community. All these different areas of diversity sometimes reinforce each other, but they do sometimes collide. That is the reality, I thought it was a really interesting point and I don’t have any other particular point to add.
Julia: We’re now really just going into the closing section. This is a question that I’m asking every single guest who comes on the show, which is, we’re going into quite challenging times; who knows what 2021 is going to hold, and there is a risk that diversity and inclusion could arguably fall down the corporate agenda. I’d love to get all your thoughts about why you believe it’s important that diversity inclusion remains high on that agenda.
Syra, let me come to you first of all.
Syra: A sense of belonging, a community, and we’re in it together can be very powerful in encouraging and motivating employees and creating the necessary resilience to get through these times. I think that diversity also fosters innovation or new ways of thinking, which could be fruitful in particular industries that may need to reimagine the way that they need to work.
Julia: Wonderful, thank you. And Wes, I mean, when you were talking to your City parishioners, if I can call them that, your congregation, but also your corporate engagement as well, why does diversity inclusion matter right now?
Wes: Yeah, thanks Julia. I think like we’ve been saying, people are asking big questions. Everyone is facing big challenges and being able to engage with these questions in and around the workplace is really good for individuals, but it’s got to be good for companies as well. Allowing people the chance to investigate the claims that the different faith groups make. As a Christian, I want people to look at Jesus to find out the answers that I think he gives to all the challenges that we’re facing at the moment, and the hope that he gives both now and for eternity, and if we’re not allowed to do that, then you’re cutting off that support.
But positively, I think we have noticed companies are more willing to allow discussion because they recognise that employees’ welfare is really important. So they are encouraging people to ask those bigger questions in and around the workplace, and I think that’s a really positive thing.
Julia: Syra was talking about resilience, innovation. There, you’re talking about welfare and an employee where you’re grappling with big challenges and allowing that to happen. Zaki, I’d love your thoughts as well, if I may for why diversity inclusion matters right now.
Zaki: Well, I think any economic downturn is hard for everyone, but it’s particularly hard for minorities, outsiders. We’ve seen that in history, people tend to look for scapegoats. It’s no accident the last few months in which we’ve seen troubled times obviously in terms of the pandemic, which have led to economic difficulties. The last few months, we’ve seen an increased prejudice against the British Chinese community, increased anti-Semitism, increased Islamophobia and other forms of prejudice. I think another reason why it’s really important is that there are, of course, legal and moral reasons for diversity, but also economic reasons. I think Syra alluded to the point that a more diverse workforce tends to be more economically productive. There’s a lot of research that shows that, because you have cognitive diversity, just different perspectives on the table.
The final thing I’d say is that faith will obviously remain an important part of that diversity agenda. We as people are always looking for meaning. We are meaning-seeking animals, and that would always remain part of our DNA. And I think faith will always be an intrinsic part of people’s identity in the UK and all over the world.
Julia: I have to say it’s been a really fascinating discussion. Not only we talked about what individuals are going through at the moment and thinking about pride in identity, talking about networks, the challenge of intersectionality, the importance of it, but also the challenge of it and the reality of it as people are navigating extraordinary times, and also thinking about how they can be resilient as organisations, how we can be innovative as organisations, how we can be productive as organisations, but above all else, to be utterly inclusive and to ensure that everybody feels like they truly belong.
It’s been a fantastic conversation. Wes, thank you so much for joining us.
Wes: It’s been great to be with you. Thanks very much.
Julia: Syra, thank you so much for joining us on the show today.
Syra: Thank you for having me Julia, much appreciated.
Julia: And finally, Zaki, thank you for all your thoughts.
Zaki: Thanks Julia and thanks everyone.
Julia: To everybody who’s tuned in, thank you as always for listening to DiverCity Podcast. My name is Julia Streets and we look forward to speaking to you again soon.
Kieron: This episode of the DiverCity Podcast was produced by me, Kieron Yates, on behalf of Julia Streets Productions. Thanks to Cynthia Akinsanya for her insights. You can find out more about the guests on this week’s show on our website, divercitypodcast.com. Whilst you are there, you can also sign up to our newsletter for all our latest updates.
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