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The Challenges of Diversity in the Workplace

This article is an extract from our booklet Diversity Matters - a guide to Best Practice in the Design of Multi-Faith rooms. To download a pdf copy of the full booklet, please click the image below

Diversity Matters brochure
Diversity Matters

Across the world, populations are increasingly multicultural and multi-ethnic. Our places of work, hospitals, universities and colleges are emphatically multicultural. It is a well-established reality that staff, patients, students and visitors can be expected to come from a dazzling array of cultural backgrounds and faiths and as such, we must accommodate their varying needs.  

Such diversity raises a range of challenges for employers, property owners and managers, facilities managers, architects and interior designers. Not least of these challenges is the moral and increasingly, legal obligation to recognise social and religious diversity in the facilities provided in the workplace. Increasingly legislation extends these obligations, which previously only applied to employers, to include all providers of goods, facilities and services to public bodies and private organisations.

In the UK, The Confederation of British Industry notes: “Employers recognise the benefits of effective diversity and inclusion policies, and the business community supports positive action The one resource that in today’s knowledge-based economy gives sustainable competitive advantage, is the skills, understanding and experience of people. Discrimination in employment, wherever it exists, squanders effort, ideas and, ultimately, business sales. It leads to wasted potential, wasted labour and wasted revenues”.  

Although there is no shortage of information on the general topic of diversity there is a distinct lack of practical, down-to-earth guidance on what that means in our places of work and study and the places we visit such as hospitals and other public buildings. Typical grey areas include:  

  • What are the day-to-day implications of diversity we need to grapple with, when considering the provisions made for staff and visitors?  
  • How do we ‘design in’ to our new buildings the demands of diversity?  
  • How can we try to reflect these demands and expectations in existing buildings?  

Our Diversity Matters guide is intended to provide practical guidance on the provision of multi-faith facilities to those responsible for the design and management of public and commercial properties and to employers who all have a duty of care for an increasingly multi-ethnic workforce. Most western countries seem to be following the UK’s more prescriptive policies regarding diversity in the workplace. This guide, therefore, provides a suitable benchmark for other countries to follow.   

The Benefits of Recognising and Accommodating Cultural Diversity

The provision of equality statements in employment Terms & Conditions is commonplace – reflecting an employer’s statutory obligations. However, such considerate HR policies should not simply be driven by the need to meet legal obligations. Being proactive about the diverse needs of a culturally diverse workforce can produce real practical and financial payback. Reduced absenteeism, lower staff turnover, improved morale and loyalty, can all be the very tangible results of enlightened staff relations. 

 Gymnasia, canteens and staff lounges are already recognised as good practice by many large employers who see practical and commercial benefits in improving the ways they cater for the well-being of their staff and visitors; by providing great places to work, employers can entice the best employees.  

Some businesses go further:  

  • Recreation facilities with games and musical instruments  
  • Sports facilities  
  • Sophisticated “relaxation chambers”  

Businesses are increasingly providing facilities for the “physical” wellbeing of the staff, however fewer companies or public service organisations have given the same thought to the spiritual needs of their diverse workforce and visitors.  

In today’s pressured world, there is real need for people to have a quiet space for reflection, meditation or prayer in the workplace, to which they can retreat when necessary during the day. If such space is to be used for prayer it must, by law, be available to everyone without discrimination. It must, therefore, provide for the traditions of different faiths without causing offence to any. Hence the concept of a multi-faith room or quiet room as it is sometimes called.  

Since the most recent UK legislation includes ‘lack of faith or belief’, in its definition of religion and belief for the purpose of establishing discrimination, such a room would potentially benefit any and every individual by providing a clean, quiet space, while avoiding the appearance of different treatment for different people with different beliefs.  

  • Most hospitals already provide a variety of multi-faith facilities for use by staff, patients, their relatives and visitors. Such facilities are, of course, especially relevant where there is personal suffering and distress. An opportunity for those affected by such circumstances to spend time in solitude in a dignified environment can be a vital part of the healing process – both physical and spiritual.  
  • Courts are places where stress can be alleviated by a few moments of quiet contemplation or prayer. Furthermore, some faiths, including Islam, require spiritual preparation before the taking of an oath on their holy book. Such preparation might also involve ritual ablution.  
  • Many government buildings, both national and local, such as prisons and libraries, are installing multi-faith facilities – for a while achieved by converting redundant smoking rooms, but these have long since disappeared, so other spaces need to be found.  
  • Airports generally provide prayer and ritual washing facilities for both travellers and staff.  
  • The armed forces are increasingly providing for the spiritual needs of members of all religions, both in barracks and in the field, and also to accommodate Muslim visitors from overseas who visit these facilities for training.  
  • Universities and colleges are leaders in encouraging multicultural tolerance and understanding. Faith rooms not only provide for worship by different faith groups, they also encourage interaction and mutual understanding.  
  • Large corporations and multinational employers are becoming more faith aware.  

This article is one in a series that has been extracted from our booklet DIversity Matters -a guide to Best Practice in the Design of Multi-Faith rooms. You can download the whole booklet above, or read other articles in this series here:

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