Religious diversity supports more inclusive environment for employees and patients

Book open to middle under a light from above. Overlaid, circle containing seven icons images representing the major religions of the world.

Penn State Health’s commitment to diversity extends beyond the usual dimensions of race, ethnicity and gender often associated with the term “diversity.” The health system also embraces religious diversity, which includes a wide range of belief systems and faiths within a community.

November 21, 2023Penn State Health News

Most people identify with one of four major faith groups:

  • Christians, representing 31.5% of the global population, with 2.2 billion followers
  • Muslims, making up 23.2% of the world’s population, with 1.6 billion followers
  • Those who do not identify with a specific religion, totaling 16.3% of the global population, with 1.1 billion reporting no choice
  • Hindus, constituting 15% of the world’s population, with 1 billion followers

Penn State Health’s patient population is similarly diverse. Based on what we know, the majority of patients identify as having no religious preference, followed by Christian, including Catholic. A growing number of patients at Penn State Health identify as Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and others.

Research from groups such as McKinsey & Company has shown that organizations benefit from greater racial, ethnic and gender diversity. These diverse environments tend to be more innovative, productive, financially stable and open to risk-taking. There are also benefits from religious diversity. People in religiously diverse environments are generally more tolerant and function better in teams, resulting in improved communication, interaction and cooperation.

Challenges to religious diversity

While diversity is now a focus in many organizations, historical support for religious diversity dates back centuries and includes a 1790 letter from George Washington to the Hebrew congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, emphasizing the benefits of religious freedom.

However, not everyone shares a commitment to religious diversity. Religions experiencing bias and hate crimes include Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Eastern Orthodox (including Russian and Greek) and Catholic communities.

More recently, there has been a focus on hate crimes and bias against the Jewish community. More than 2,700 anti-Semitic incidents occurred in 2021, an increase of 34% over the previous year. Many remember the cry of “Jews will not replace us” during a 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue attack in 2018.

Since the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, the Anti-Defamation League has reported a 388% increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States compared to last year. Bias episodes have occurred in Europe, Australia, Latin America and North Africa.

Members of the Muslim and Palestinian communities are also experiencing an increase in bias, including the murder of a 6-year-old Palestinian-American child in Illinois; a Dearborn, Michigan, social media post to gather people to “hunt Palestinians;” and the assault of a Sikh teen wearing a turban in New York City.

Fostering an environment that respects religious diversity

Penn State Health recognizes the positive impact of religious diversity and is committed to implementing strategies that address religious diversity issues from a workplace and patient experience perspective.

Ensuring a respectful work and patient care environment is crucial to Penn State Health’s commitment to its RITE values and being Pennsylvania’s most trusted health care provider. The health system revised Human Resources Policy 86 to prohibit discrimination or harassment against any person based on aspects of diversity, including religion. The policy calls for the termination of any employee who has engaged in behavior that they knew or should have known constituted bias or discrimination. The organization also implemented an administrative policy, ADM-120, prohibiting bias or discrimination by a patient, family member or visitor against any of Penn State Health employee. This includes comments based on a person’s aspect of diversity or refusing care based on an employee’s diversity.

Standing up for respect

Employees or patients whose behavior is inconsistent with these policies should be reported to a supervisor, HR Business Partner or anonymously through the Compliance Hotline either online or by calling 1-800-560-1637.

Employees are also encouraged to be upstanders – individuals who respectfully intervene when they witness actions inconsistent with our commitment to a respectful environment. The health system’s Diversity Office hosts sessions on the first Friday of each month during which employees can learn to be an upstander. Register for the next Upstander Café.

“In these challenging times, we encourage everyone to reach out to colleagues who may be affected by global events, whether natural disasters or war-related conflicts, and show your support and solidarity,” said Lynette Chappell-Williams, vice president and chief diversity officer at Penn State Health.

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