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As diversity programs tend to push Jews away, ERGs draw religious people in

Some of the biggest U.S. companies are increasingly adding and revering employee resources groups.

Businesspeople. Credit: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels.
Businesspeople. Credit: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels.

The diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) movement has developed a reputation for pushing Jews away. Employee resources groups, ERGs, aim to do the opposite.

DEI programs tend to focus largely or exclusively on race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, and when they have addressed religion, it has tended to be combating Islamophobia. But ERGs, which are voluntary, employee-led groups, appear to be welcoming spaces in the business world to Jews.

“Among some companies, there’s always been a space for faith in their diversity,” Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, told JNS. “It usually begins with a Christian group getting an ERG started and that helps open the door for Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus to form ERGs of their own.”

Grim cited American Airlines, American Express, Intel Corporation and Texas Instruments as examples of that phenomenon.

The foundation (RFBF) held its fourth annual Faith@Work Conference in May in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of corporate executives, ERG leaders and in-house corporate chaplains spoke about economic and social benefits of fostering religious and belief diversity.

At the event, RFBF unveiled its 2023 Corporate Religious Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (REDI) Index and Monitor, as well as honored several Fortune 500 companies for their religious inclusiveness.

Some 90% of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs, according to Stacey Aviva Flint, director of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) education and community engagement for the Jewish Federations of North America.

“As Jews are a multiracial, multinational, multiethnic and multi-denominational group, we don’t fit neatly into the DEI ‘pegs,’ ” Flint told JNS. “Jewish ERGs should have a clear connection to a DEI strategy that includes education, engagement and empowerment of both Jewish employees and all employees.”

Better education can help organizations understand Jewish communal nuances, the psychological and physical harm to Jews due to antisemitism and the ways that identities can overlap for many Jews, according to Flint.

“Ultimately, discrimination against Jews usually does not stop at Jews but often is linked to other ‘isms,’ such as racism, homophobia, xenophobia, gender [and] accessibility discrimination, and more,” she said. “Enabling employees to hear from a diversity of Jewish voices can strengthen an organization by not only communicating a commitment to diversity but actively modeling the inclusion of Jewish concerns.”

Whole work selves

Naomi Kraus, a senior content strategist at Google, delivered a keynote at the event. The granddaughter of four Holocaust survivors is the global lead for Google’s Inter Belief Network ERG and leads its Jewglers (Jewish Googlers) subchapter.

In her more than 10 years at Google, Kraus has watched the company grow “from a smaller, up-and-comer to one of the biggest companies in the world,” she said.

Google has embraced the inclusion movement and encourages employees to “bring their whole selves to work,” she said.

“One’s faith and ethnic identity is very much a part of that process, but as of late, many have become more wary of expressing it due to the hate they fear they may experience,” she said at the event.

Kraus sees ERGs as beneficial for Jews and encourages companies to foster them.

“Google’s willingness to fund and support a space in which Jewish employees can seek support and resources in times like this has been very helpful to those in our community,” she said. “It has enabled volunteer leaders like me to provide programming and educational resources on antisemitism at a scale that would be unthinkable without its help.”

Three congregants at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, escaped after being held hostage for nearly 11 hours, Jan. 15, 2022. Source: Screenshot.

Following the 2022 hostage situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Jewglers offered support sessions and organized personal safety training for employees with a Jewgler who works in the company’s security department.

Jewglers have also held talks with Holocaust survivors and programmed courses to familiarize other employees with the antisemitism that Jewish colleagues encounter, noted Kraus.

Employee retention

At the recent RFBF conference, Kraus spoke about how ERGs can help combat antisemitism and religious discrimination.

Besides Google, 218 other “Fortune 500” companies mention, refer to or illustrate religion on their main diversity landing page—up from 202 last year—and 43 now publicly report having faith-oriented ERGs—up from 37 the year before—according to RFBF.

Making religious employees feel at home is smart for business, according to Grim. Several corporations (Grim declined to name them) lost valuable employees to more faith-friendly rivals.

“You don’t have to lose many people before you start digging deeper,” he said. Companies like PayPal and Dell Technologies, who encourage ERG development, “realize that to keep and retain talent, people have to feel at home.”

Representatives of the White House, State Department, Walmart, Intel, American Airlines, Dell, PayPal, Coca-Cola and Equinix also spoke at the event.

“Top companies are doing business globally. A diverse workplace inspires confidence in both consumers and employees,” Flint said. “Studies among Fortune 500 companies reveal that diverse workplaces benefit from cognitive diversity leading to innovation and exploration of new ideas.”

At Intel, a Christian ERG member, who was assigned to a project in Muslim-majority Malaysia, sought advice from members of the Muslim ERG on issues of local culture and norms, Grim told JNS. RFBF named Intel the most faith-friendly, “Fortune 500” corporate workplace.

And at Texas Instruments, Jewish, Christian and Muslim ERGs collaborated on a Holocaust memorial project, said. He added that the leader of a Christian group at the company was “blown away” after hearing from a Holocaust survivor.

The Christian ERG leader “said it activated his own faith,” Grim said. “When those groups start interacting with each other, it reinforces each other’s identities.”

At first, there was a reticence to even talk about the development of ERGs. Three years ago, just five of the 10 awarded companies sent representatives to receive the prizes, according to Grim. Last year, all 17 recognized companies sent delegations, some of 10 or more people.

“It’s now sort of the industry standard benchmarking process for religion at work,” he said. “One of those measures is whether the company provides ERGs interfaith organizations. Then it’s whether it offers reasonable accommodations and ways to request that.”

“Does the company feature religion as part of diversity on its website?” he asked rhetorically. “We also look at whether the company matches donations to faith-based charities. A surprising number do.”

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