Natasha Dossa’s days and nights are largely spent evaluating business models and figures as an analyst at a leading investment bank in New York City’s Financial District. The twenty-two-year-old Texas native’s all-consuming profession is not unusual for transplants who find their way to the city that never sleeps. But amongst colleagues and some peers, Dossa does stand out.
“During Ramadan, I usually go to mosque two or three times a day,” says Dossa, a Sunni Muslim. In addition to prayer meetings, Dossa refrains from eating and drinking during daylight while observing the Islamic month of fasting. “Outside of Ramadan, though, I go [to mosque] once a week and pray at home,” she adds. But, amongst her peers at work, Dossa finds herself in the minority. “At work, no one has time for religion…. It doesn’t seem like religion is a huge part of anyone’s life.”
There are statistics to support Dossa’s observation. According to figures released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 25 percent of members of the Millennial generation (those born between 1982 and 2000) are unaffiliated with any particular faith, five percent more than those in the generation directly before them (Generation X), and 50 percent more than their Baby Boomer parents. Similarly, statistics show that young adults pray less than previous generations. And research findings released by LifeWay Christian Resources, a provider of religious books, music ,church supplies, and Internet services, found that 72 percent of Gen Yers polled identify as more spiritual than religious.
Generation Y: the technologically savvy, overachieving, short-attention-spanned, world changers of today and tomorrow are also a group that lack religious engagement. Long priding themselves on being the generation that is unlike their parents, Millennials are coming to the forefront as a generation that challenges authority and commonly accepted traditions and beliefs—even religious ones.
Generational Trends and Implications
Howard Ross, founder and Chief Learning Officer of diversity consultancy Cook Ross and an expert in generational diversity issues, says that Generation Y’s lack of religious affiliation can widely be understood as an extension of their negative view of, and tendency to challenge, authority institutions.
“Religion has gotten caught up in the tide and trend of Millennials questioning the institutions that they have been raised with,” says Ross. “For example, Catholicism has been challenged by a generation that, by its nature, questions basic institutions.” Generation Y’s cautious skepticism of religious institutions may not affect their prayer habits, but it certainly has come to influence whether or not they identify as religious, according to research published by the Pew Research Center.
This rings true for Steven Mosley, a 25-year-old writer and producer for Lifetime Television network. He says religion has gotten a bad rap amongst many Generation Yers. “I think a lot of people look negatively at religion because people are representing religion negatively. LGBT rights and abortion are taken to the forefront when [Christianity] is really about love and service.”
Mosley, who was raised with what he identifies as a strong Christian foundation, says he does not mind the implications of being religious, but sees himself as a spiritual person in addition to the religion that he subscribes to.
Generation Y’s relationship with religion is influenced by the group’s diverse racial, ethnic, and religious makeup. Ross believes this cultural mixing can explain why many Gen Yers don’t affiliate with a specific religion. “Generation Y is a generation that comes from parents that were likely more open to religious diversity—many were cross married,” says Ross. “As a result, Generation Y is less likely than previous generations to be raised in an environment where they are told that ‘the only way to live is this way,’” Ross says.
What’s more, through social media and other outlets, this technologically astute generation is connected on a global level. This interconnectedness has drawn people, cultures, and religions together at a pace unseen before.
“Today, there is more exposure to a wider range of world religions,” says Ross. “As a result, a lot of young people…feel more freedom to create spirituality drawing from all different religions than ever before.” Citing the mainstreaming of yoga and the growing presence of Buddhism, Ross says that popular culture has spurred on a cultural awakening of sorts that has included aspects of many different religions.
However, it’s a phenomenon that some religiously rooted Gen Yers find overwhelming. “Finding a balance and not having an identity crisis is really important,” says Dossa. “People stray from religion when they find things that they are learning or doing are at odds with scriptures.”
Business Implications and Trends
As Generation Y continues to flood the workplace and religious affiliation among young adults continues to decline, it is still important for companies to stay abreast of the impact of religion in the workplace and the marketplace. The conversation about religion’s role in the workplace is in flux right now, but Ross says it’s a conversation that is, and should be, taking place. “People are coming to realize that not talking about [religion] does not make us more inclusive,” says Ross. He believes there has been a shift in the common understanding of what it means to be inclusive. Rather than just seeing diversity and inclusion as a race and gender issue, leaders are recognizing religion as a key aspect of diversity in the workplace. “They are no longer pretending that it does not exist.”
From providing meditation rooms in offices to establishing religion-specific employee resource groups, organizations are keeping employees like Dossa and Mosley in mind as they strive to develop an inclusive work environment. For example, office supply retailer and Diversity Best Practices member OfficeMax has transformed a private storage area in their headquarters into a prayer room for Muslim employees. The company also added showers to some restrooms in their corporate offices so that Muslim employees would no longer have to rely on sinks and toilets for their cleansing rituals.
These efforts are overdue for employees like Dossa who believe there is more awareness of certain religions at work. “Everyone is aware of Jewish holidays, but I don’t think anyone is aware of what Eid is,” says Dossa. She thinks a lot of the pressure placed on Muslims to educate their peers about Islam could be lifted if diversity leaders paid more attention to differences beyond race and gender.
Mosley sees things differently. While not ashamed of his religious beliefs, he views religion is something very personal. He doesn’t believe religion is an area in which employers should be involved. It is hard to conclusively identify the life experiences that make Dossa and Mosley diverge on this topic, however the difference reflects the diversity within Generation Y, and the dynamic conversation the group is having about faith, spirituality, and religion.
While views about whether and how religion should be addressed in the workplace are as diverse as the employees who hold them, it is a topic companies must not avoid. “As religion continues to enter the diversity and inclusion conversation, they will have to figure out how to be more inclusive,” say Ross.