We’ve said before that IWCO Direct’s strength comes from its passionate and dedicated workforce. We’re proud of our workplace diversity and believe it offers a benefit to our customers as they seek to partner with suppliers who reflect their own diversity guidelines. We’ve been recognized for our efforts to embrace the cultural and religious practices of our employees in this recent article by Twin Cities Business. We’d like to offer a few basic guidelines for other companies looking to adapt to the unique needs of workplace diversity.
1. Get Help from Outside Sources
When exploring policies to balance our production schedule with the needs of our employees of the Islamic faith to conduct five prayers daily, we contacted the Minnesota Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) to find a starting point. The group helped us identify and understand the religious practices that are important to our Muslim employees so that we could discover ways to incorporate these practices into our company culture.
2. Adapt Shift Schedules
One of the most apparent challenges facing any company with religiously diverse employees is to reconcile prayer schedules with a full work day. To allow for five daily prayers, we began by adding two unpaid breaks to the existing three paid breaks per 12-hour shift. Specific prayer times change with the lunar calendar, so we posted prayer calendars for supervisor reference.
3. Provide Appropriate Accommodations
Equally as important as the “when” to schedule prayer times is the “where.” We worked hand-in-hand with those who observe prayer to convert several cubicle spaces to create clean, quiet, respectful areas. During paid and unpaid breaks, Muslim employees can visit these spaces and engage in the prayer rituals that are central to their faith.
4. Engage Employees with Language Coaches
For some companies, language can create a barrier between employees. At IWCO Direct, we utilize several language coaches, who mediate communication with our workforce so that we can effectively engage with our employees. CAIR-MN also helped us better understand how workplace diversity can be managed to accommodate all employees.
5. Educate and Train Supervisors
Balancing employee needs with workflow is a key step toward creating an effective multicultural workplace. Supervisors and managers drive the process while upholding company standards. With education, supervisors gain perspective into the potentially-unfamiliar cultures and practices of our increasingly diverse workforce. They are then better able to handle emergent employee concerns – particularly when they include sensitive issues like cultural practices and religious responsibilities.
Our posted prayer calendars, language coaches and assistance from CAIR-MN has helped us create a more effective workforce. Awareness and education not only enriches interpersonal communication between supervisors and employees, it also allows us to identify potential concerns before they disrupt workflow or interrupt a positive work environment.
The approach we’ve laid out has had a powerful impact on our company and staff. That’s not to say issues won’t arise in the future, but the approach we’ve taken has created an environment where employees understand their concerns are taken seriously and issues will be resolved in a manner that is acceptable to everyone involved.
Employers embracing workplace diversity can create and maintain a positive environment for their workforce by encouraging communication and fostering a balance of accommodation and production. If you’re interested in learning more about incorporating these best practices in your business, let me know or get in touch with CAIR-MN.
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