One of the workshops I attended at the Nov. 9th Diversity@Work conference put on by Skills for Change was by Nadir Shirazi. He spoke about dedicated spaces in offices for quiet time, prayer, meditation etc.
Nadir’s presentation was very interesting; he shared the challenge for companies to name these rooms, and the lack of follow-up to see who is using them and how they are used. He confirmed that most of the requests for such rooms are made my Muslim employees. And he explained that complexities arise when these rooms are used by many people with different beliefs and needs. Providing a room, as the title of his workshop suggested, is just the tip of the religious accommodation iceberg.
What stood out for me most, however, was the inequity Nadir shared of where these rooms often are. In their commitment to diversity and inclusion many companies have such spaces in their corporate offices. This is wonderful for the executives and employees who work there, but doesn’t help the staff in the company’s call centres, or retail stores, or franchise outlets (for example).
It was an interesting manifestation of privilege within the context of attempting to be equitable; of how easily people can be overlooked even when we are trying to be inclusive. I’m willing to bet it’s largely unconscious that the men and women at head office have a meditation or prayer room while the workers “on the front lines” of these companies may not. But if this is the case, what do our accommodation efforts really amount to?
It sure made me wonder when I placed my order for tea at the Toronto Airport last week before boarding my flight, and noticed that not a single person working there was White.
Copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity and inclusion