I've been hugely encouraged by the level of interest there's been since we launched the faith and belief strand of the Civil Service Diversity & Inclusion agenda in October 2017. At my last meeting with departmental Faith & Belief champions we heard about a wide range of activity taking place around the Civil Service, from blogs to Eid celebrations, the launch of the Humanists in Government network, and ‘Faith & Belief Unwrapped’ sessions at Civil Service Live.
With the help of Faith & Belief champions, I have developed a set of priorities for action. These are:
Amplify our dialogue about faith and belief in the Civil Service
In our discussions about inclusion, we talk lots about ethnicity, disability and other protected characteristics. I want us to bring Faith & Belief out of the shadows and into the conversation.
Celebrate our shared values and the opportunities we have to work together
I know it can risk sounding like a cliché, but we have more in common than divides us. And, as we bring our wider values into the workplace, we can find opportunities to work together on a shared purpose.
Facilitate difficult conversations where we need to
I appreciate that starting conversations around religious practices can feel like tricky territory. And I know that there can be tensions between providing support for some people where it might overlap or conflict with the needs of others.
Why so much about conversations? Well, I believe that talking more about faith and belief is a crucial element of achieving our twin objectives of improved faith literacy – understanding about faith and belief – and supporting people to bring their whole selves to work. Conversations are a route to learning about different faiths and belief systems and what they mean to those who follow them. They help deepen understanding on what makes each other tick, develop a shared sense of belonging and affirm our colleagues.
But that doesn’t mean that conversations are always easy. We know that some people feel awkward when having to explain religious customs or observations. It’s difficult to explain a sense of exclusion when team activities involve a certain type of food or drink. Or there may be aspects of a colleague’s religion or belief that are unfamiliar, thereby leading to uncomfortable conversations.
To help address this, we are today launching a new toolkit for the Civil Service on Faith and Belief that has been developed in conjunction with cross-government networks and departmental Faith and Belief champions. I hope it will make a real impact in building inclusive cultures for civil servants of all faiths and none.
It will be a resource where people can go to ask questions on how best to support people in their teams. A comprehensive set of FAQs is also included, so that you can see what others have been asking and the guidance for a response. We will be adding to it over the coming months. Your feedback will be invaluable to this process, so if you have any questions or suggestions for additional content then please contact: email@example.com.
So please take a moment to read through the toolkit. We are committed to making the Civil Service the most inclusive employer in the UK, and determined to work in a way that makes everyone feel they can participate fully in our workplaces, no matter their background.
I hope that by making this toolkit available, and encouraging people to use it, more and more people will find that their lived experience reflects our commitments.
Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on
Thank you Clare for sharing this with us. I have had a quick look through the toolkit and it looks like some simple and sensible guidance.
During my recent posting to Istanbul, my experience of attending regular services at Christ Church was a positive one.
Comment by Des Bowring posted on
As a non-Humanist atheist, I've always found it difficult to understand why 'deeply-held beliefs' are more highly valued than thoroughly learned facts. The toolkit appears to be perpetuating and indeed encouraging this imbalance. I trust that in the interests of equality, diversity and inclusion in the civil service I will continue be free to question, critique and ridicule any religious ideas which are incompatible with a scientific and rational world-view.
Comment by Si posted on
I have similar thoughts, I used to be very religious but have since changed my stance completely and whilst I respect other peoples religious freedoms and practices, having been that way inclined myself, I would still like the freedom to air my views to the contrary of any religious belief and believe this can be done in a respectful way.
Do we hold all 'religious' or any beliefs the same? even if deemed to be harmful? (cults)
Comment by Sophie posted on
Des your beliefs should be just as important as anyone elses, but your statement of "I will continue be free to question, critique and ridicule any religious ideas which are incompatible with a scientific and rational world-view" has no more value than someone who says 'I will continue be free to question, critique and ridicule any scientific ideas which are incompatible with a religious view'.
Your beliefs, in my experience, don't appear to hold any less value in the world as I know it. Where there are documents with 'faith' in the title there will always be an emphasis on exploring religious beliefs because it is these that are highly critiqued, over scientific beliefs.
Comment by Tom posted on
You make an interesting point. What may be missing here (and what I often find missing from contentious 'religion vs. science' type issues) is a clear distinction between facts and values (or in this case beliefs). Facts being something we can prove with science / empirical evidence and values / beliefs being things which do not require proof, or cannot be proved.
As Sophie explained I don't think it is always helpful to use facts to question belief or matters of faith. Similarly, as a scientifically minded atheist, I would be very keen that matters of faith are not presented as observable facts and are not used to try to influence evidence based policy.
I have personally found that by understanding what is fact and what is belief it is much easier to deal constructively with others whose values or beliefs may differ from my own.
Comment by Phiona Hesketh posted on
I am saddened to read that you would wish to be able to 'ridicule' a religious belief. There is scope to critique perspectives whilst being respectful and acknowledge that other people may have a different view. As a Probation Officer I spend a great deal of time encouraging prisoners to develop their perspective-taking and tolerance/acceptance of other people's views in order to reduce the harm to the public. I would hope that my Civil Service colleagues pro-social model this approach. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss further. Kind regards