December 12, 2011
MICHAEL SWAN
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

TORONTO – Nadir Shirazi calls religion "the black sheep of the diversity family."

Getting corporate Canada to talk about accommodating religion at work is a tough sell compared to other diversity-in-employment seminars, said Cheryl May executive director of Skills For Change.

But a day of talk about religion in the workplace on the 46th floor of a Bay Street office tower attracted more than 200 people from corporate human resource directors to small business owners.

While corporate Canada has managed over the last 30 years to create policies and programs to address racial, cultural and even sexual diversity in the workforce, the secular business world remains uncomfortable talking about religion, said May.

Uncomfortable or not, the corporate world will have to deal with religion, said Shirazi.

It's Muslims who have been leading the way. Because Islam requires Muslims to pray five times per day, an increasing number of employers have set aside "quiet rooms" and "meditation rooms."

Through his company, Multifacet Diversity Solutions Ltd., Shirazi has advised employers as large as IBM Canada, Scotiabank and the Conference Board of Canada on religious diversity policies.

POWER OF IMMIGRANTS

The movement to allow public expression of religion at work isn't limited to Muslims. It will only increase as immigrants and their children become an ever larger part of Canada's workforce, said Shirazi.

The greatest barrier to more religion-friendly work places is fear, said Christina Zaharia of Tridel Corp.

"People are very quiet, maybe scared to say what religion they practise," said the Romanian Orthodox manager.