Innovating for Social Equity: The Intersection of Religion and Business
This session sought answers to the question, “In the broader conversation about diversity in business, what is the context for religion?”
- May 28, 2021
- Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation
Hi, everyone, thank you so much for joining us this evening. Welcome to tonight's event: Innovating for Social Equity: The Intersection of Religion and Business hosted by Chicago Booth's Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, and the University of Chicago Divinity School.
I'm Carolyn Grossman, Executive Director of the Rustandy Center, and adjunct Assistant Professor of strategy at Chicago Booth, and an alumna of Chicago Booth. And during my time as a Booth student, almost 20 years ago,I took one class outside of the business school, which was over at the Divinity School. So tonight's event is especially nice connection for me as well. For those of you who are interacting with the Rustandy Center for the first time, we are the Social Impact Hub at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and we're here for people committed to tackling complex social and environmental problems. We're an important part of the university's social impact ecosystem. And we promote innovation, advanced research and develop the people and practices that can accelerate social change.
For those of you who are learning about the Divinity School for the first time tonight, it's focused on the academic study of religion, of pursuing new knowledge for the broadest possible range of perspectives. The divinity school offers multiple programs of study and ways to interact with scholars and offers a special one year program as well. The Divinity School is also home of the Martin Marty Center for public understanding of religion, which fosters an understanding of religion's impact on policy and contemporary life through events such as this evening's program. We're thankful to the Divinity School for being such a strong partner and for helping to bring tonight's event to life.
Tonight is the fourth session in the Rustandy Center's Innovating for Social Equity series. Previous sessions have examined the role of philanthropy, private market investors, entrepreneurs and the business community in addressing social equity. Each of these sessions has been bound by a central question, with billions spent by the public, private and philanthropic sectors, why do profound disparities persist? Tonight's conversation will address this question by examining a topic that plays a unique role in diversity, equity and inclusion, religion.
This past year brought a renewed attention and interest in organizations DEI efforts from a global economic crisis to a long overdue call for racial justice,organizations have been challenged to move from DEI strategies to action. But in the broader conversation about DEI, what's the context for religion?
Tonight's panelists will address this question by examining the progress that business has made relative to faith in the workplace, and exploring how all faith backgrounds might be reflected in our economy.
Our panelists tonight are well positioned to dig into these topics. Our moderator is David Nirenberg, Dean of the Divinity School and Deborah R.and Edgar D Jannotta, a Distinguished Service Professor. David will facilitate our conversation with business leaders whose strategies take religious diversity into account.
It includes Charisse Conanan Johnson, Booth alumna, Managing Partner of Next Street, Hilary Krane, an alumna of the law school, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel of Nike, sporting her Nike gear as you'll see in a moment, Eboo Patel, Founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth core, and Emmanuel Roman, Chief Executive Officer of PIMCO.
At the end of our facilitated discussion, Dean Nirenberg will invite student leaders from five different religious student groups at Booth to join the panelists and ask one question each.
With that, let's dive in. Over to your Dean Nirenberg.
Thanks so much. And let me begin by thanking everyone for being here, and then follow up with an apology. I'm a historian, and from a historian’s point of view, don't everybody groan. The topic of religion in business is an enormous one. If we stick just to the Abrahamic faiths and the Christian Islamic world, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Quran, and Hadith, all have many things to say about the correct relationship of believers to property and wealth, about permitted and forbidden activities, and about the ethics of exchange.
Those religious ideas have changed a great deal over time. We're a long way from the Christian Middle Ages, when the basic code of Canon law decreed that a merchant cannot be a Christian. But religious ideas and ideals have always shaped the possibilities for economic life.
In fact, for many sociologists and historians of capitalism, changes in religious thought were the precondition for the rise of capitalism. Think of Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic "and the Spirit of Capitalism," with this emphasis on the Calvinist transformation of place of work and wealth in the understanding of God's grace. And that book was written in part against the more popular position of his rival at the foundations of modern sociology, Werner Sombart, who claimed that capitalism was a Jewish invention, a disease that had infected Christianity and opinion sometimes shared by that great critic of capitalism, Karl Marx.
So that's past, today, religion remains a very important force in shaping the way in which humans think about economic exchange, and engage in the world of work and commerce. To choose only some contemporary Christian examples, think of the prosperity gospel in the United States, or of the role of certain Protestant movements in building the business community in South Korea after the Korean War, or today, across much of the global south.
There's a lot to talk about. And it isn't possible to say everything in one sermon, I really am the Dean of the Divinity School. So today, we're gonna focus our conversation on the present rather than the past and on two interrelated sets of questions that often arise around the intersection of religion and business.
So the first set of questions is, what is the proper place of religion in the workplace? At a personnel level or personal level, does it offer resources, ethical or otherwise, to executives, to managers, to employees? And at the level of organizations, where does religion fit in the map of diversity and inclusion?
And then the second set of questions, what are the potential roles of religion in the marketplace? Economists rarely asked that question explicitly and when they do, their answers are often very instrumental. When I was dean of Social Sciences, I read one study by an economist that did a randomized trial of creditors on phone bills and found Muslim creditors and found that when you sent them certain verses from the Quran about the ethical obligations to repay your debts, repayment rates went up. That's the kind of research we see in the field.
So what opportunities, what problems arise when we do ask these questions? So I'm delighted to welcome you all to this discussion. And I'm especially delighted to welcome and to thank in advance our panelists who bring an enormous wealth of experience, no pun intended, in thinking about issues like these every day. Although the topic of tonight's discussion is broader than individual religious identity, we can't help but see the topic of religion through the lens of our own upbringing, whether religious or not. So I'd like to invite each of the panelists to give us an understanding of the perspective you bring, and how religion intersects with business in your own life. Eboo would you start us off?
I will, thank you for that Dean Nirenberg. It's true by your example of Weber versus Sombart because I am going to tell a story about barbecue 20 miles outside of Waco, Texas. So you're gonna give the youth Chicago audience. A 19th century debate between intellectuals and I'm gonna give you Chicago audience, the scene of barbecue on the way from the Dallas airport, DFW to Waco, Texas.
So I'm in a rental car. I'm a brand guy with an earring in each ear and I have a suit on and what my organization does is we consult principally with college campuses and other civic organizations on religious diversity. And so I'm on my way to Baylor University to meet with senior administrators and faculty on how this historically Baptist school is going to be more embracing of religious diversity at the strategic level down to freshman orientation. And I've been hearing about all these great roadside barbecue joints on the way from Dallas to Waco, and 10, 20 miles outside of Waco, I decided to stop in.
And if there is kind of a stereotypical image of a roadside barbecue joint 20 miles outside of Waco, that's what you could find me in that day. So there's burly white guys in overalls, there's Fox News playing from the TV, and everybody turns to look at me, and they had not seen that many of me, let me put it that way, that's at least how I felt. Brown guy, suit, earring in each ear.
So I go up to the barbecue bar to order. And it is you know, it's not Chicago, there's the gluten content and each item is not labeled well, let me put it that way. And as a reasonably devoted Muslim, I have no idea what I'm able to eat here. I have learned over time that people will figure out how to sneak ham or bacon into just about anything. And so I'm kind of gingerly going item by item by item. What's in the collard greens, what's in the mashed potatoes, what's in the mac and cheese, and the line behind me is not really happy.
They weren't happy about me being in the joint to begin with. They're definitely not happy with me now. And the woman behind the counter looks at me, and she says,
"Sweetie, here are the four things you can eat," and she points them out to me.
And I kind of give her this look of recognition, right? Like, Hey, I appreciate you, right? Like she kind of understood me.
And after she serves up the food, she looks at me and she smiles, and she says, "Everybody's gotta eat, right?"
And I'm thinking to myself, she just did a masterstroke of inclusivity, she had a sense that I was asking a set of questions about what was in the food, not out of like aesthetic taste, but out of something to some kind of deep conviction. I didn't, you know, whisper a word of Arabic. I didn't bring out my Islamic prayer beads. But she had a sense that there was something identity related, very likely religion related going on, and she made a sale.
If I couldn't figure out what had bacon or ham hocks, or not in that joint, I wasn't gonna hand 12.99 over the counter, right? There are things that I will compromise on, pork is not one of them. And it kind of occurred to me, on a planet of 7 billion people one and a half billion of them being Muslim, this has to happen all the time, some version of it. A set of people looking for products and services that meet the standards, or indeed, are especially sensitive or connect with their religious identity. Imagine not just food, but clothing, but holidays, leisure, hospitality, et cetera, et cetera. Banking practices that are relevant to issues of religious identity and diversity.
So that's the work that IFYC does, principally for college campuses. But it started to beg the question for me, what does this look like in the private sector? What does it look like in corporate America?
I got a little window into that in the summer of 2020. IFYC Like, virtually every organization on the planet, hired diversity consultants to work with our team of 45 or so employees on issues of identity and diversity, principally race. And because we're an organization that focuses on interfaith cooperation, we asked all of the dozen or so firms that we interviewed in the process of hiring a consultant, what do you happen to do around religion? Every single one of the 12 firms we interviewed said nothing. And some of them were actually proud of it.
They said, "We don't deal with religion because it is inherently exclusive." So as everybody listening knows the DEI industry in corporate America is many billions of dollars. I think McKinsey rated it at 8 billion some years back, it is likely much higher than that now. And at least in our sample size of a dozen firms that focused on racial identity and diversity, not a single one of them had anything along the lines of a practice when it came to religious diversity. Here in the United States, which is the most religiously diverse nation in human history,and in a world that is teeming with religious diversity.
Let me end with this. When companies go wrong, on issues of religious diversity, and by the way, my principal point here is not companies should protect against the bad, it is that they should maximize the good but when they do go wrong when it comes to religious diversity, it winds them up in court.
And in a extremely important 2015 ruling, Abercrombie versus EEOC, a case in which Muslim woman with the hijab walks into an Abercrombie & Fitch seeking a job she is not given that job because her headscarf puts her awry of Abercrombie "look policy," at the time, that young woman, Samantha Elauf, sues Abercrombie.
Not only does she win eight to one at the Supreme Court, but Scalia issues the ruling, and in his opinion, he says that the Supreme Court believes that religion shouldn't just be treated neutrally, but Title VII says it is a favored identity and it is the responsibility of companies to have enough religious literacy to know that the article on Ms. Elauf's head was not an aesthetic preference, it was a religious conviction. And it was the responsibility of the company to know that even if she hadn't volunteer that information, that is a major ruling and it's the kind of thing that should have every private sector company sit up and pay attention.
What do our employees know about issues of religious diversity? And are we serving our customer base when it comes to this identity?
Hilary, would you like to jump in? I think that.... Yeah.
Sure. I'd be happy to. I'm sorry, I have no cool food story in Texas for everybody. My history is I was born, I'm a Cradle Catholic, born into a Catholic family but my father was Jewish and agreed to have me raised in the Catholic faith as I was. But I was always deeply aware of my Jewish heritage and celebrated the cultural aspects,but not the religious aspects of my Jewish upbringing that was at times conflicting for me.
I went to Sacred Heart school. And you can imagine the lessons on who got into heaven and who didn't, were somewhat troubling to me 'cause I wasn't sure I wanted to go, if grandma Pearly wasn't gonna be there. Those were kind of the early intellectual conflicts and emotional conflicts I had around religion. And then I really didn't practice much religion, I fell away from the Catholic Church over a variety of reasons, for a long period of time, during which I met and married my husband.
And during those years, he got his PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. So I got exposed to deep thinking from, really serious scholars about how to think about religion and life. And it was, again, super intellectual journey. But something happened later. And I can't tell you what it was but just one Christmas, when I took my mom to church, which I did, every year, my faith returned, and I became a practicing Catholic, again. And this was well into my adulthood.
By now I'm a practicing lawyer deep into commerce at another company and having a very successful career. And it was a wonderful, what I'd have to call conversion, adult conversion experience for me to find my way back to the church.And then it became interesting to see how it did influence how I think about what I do.
Being in the corporate world, I deal with a lot of hard commercial decisions and realities in the workplace. And I have always found my religion is super important touchstone for me in making personal decisions for myself. And I found it was a challenge as I matured, to make sure that I didn't think I could impose my religious belief on an enterprise, which is, by its definition, pluralistic, owned by the public, intended to serve mass audiences of every religious stripe, so that in some ways, I can never separate myself from my religious belief, and in other ways, I have to say, not withstanding that sometimes in doing my job, I have to say, I might vote one way, but that doesn't mean that's the way it has to be. And drawing that line, I think, is a constant challenge. And it does well to remind us that ethics and religion are not the same thing.
And, well, I have ethics that I would never compromise in the workplace. That does not mean that I don't have to see past my own slice of religion in order to be a great enterprise leader, and an enterprise who seeks to literally serve everybody on the planet who has a body and wants to be an athlete, no matter what their religion.
So that's how it shows up in my life, and in my work, Dean. I hope that's helpful.
Very, thank you. Emmanuel, do you want to...
You restore my Hebrew name. So I'm a French Calvinist, I spend 20 years at Goldman Sachs and married a Jewish girl, I have two Jewish daughters and if I didn't convert, I came very close to it. And so it will be all fine, except that I lost faith in Auschwitz, to quote Robert Nozick.
I'm one of these people who have an enormous amount of trouble to reconcile the two together. But in 2008, running a big financial institution, I decided to take a tutor in modern philosophy, and for three years, I had weekly sessions with a philosopher in London, about ethics. And that has transformed my life in terms of how I make decisions and how I think about issues and so a lot of my talk, a lot of my email, a lot of the decisions I make, are papered with code from John Royston, Dennis Scanlon, you know, various philosophers of the past 30 years.
The big awakening for someone who works in finance is that finance, as we know it come from the Benjamin Quinlan view of the world. It's a Protestant origin, where Ashkenazi Jews in the U.S transform it to what it is today. And the people who got excluded are people of the Muslim face. And I think the great awakening for all of us and the great challenge, has been over the past 20 years to change our practice, and change the way we include a religion that a lot of us knew little about, at best intellectually at worse, from a distance in terms of understanding face, understanding practice, understanding belief, and sometimes having cultural challenges in terms of business decision, where reasonable people can have very different decision.
And I think that's something which has been incredibly, incredibly positive in terms of how you see the world and how you see entropy in terms of where you're located. And so the world is changing. And then new religion come, there's 5 million Sikh in America. I admit, I knew very little about the Sikh religion. We have 26 Sikh people over at PIMCO, I learned plenty about what they believe, and so on and so forth.
Emmanuel you have raised the question of theodicy by invoking the Holocaust. And that's a fascinating question for the development of capitalism, but we won't talk about it. But we'll ask Charisse to bring up the last personal examples.
Charisse Conanan Johnson:
Sure. Thank you so much, Dean. First of all, it's a pleasure to be here. And my own personal story is rooted one, I'm the child of a father who was raised Catholic and practices Catholicism. And my mom, who was raised Baptists, and, practices from that Protestant bent.
My brother and I were raised in a Christian, non-denominational church, such that we would decide for ourselves which path we wanted to follow. My brother went the Catholicism route, I went the Protestant route. And in my high school and into leading into college, journey, I went to Yale undergrad, and Yale has a huge, also called Black Church at Yale, I learned a lot about the intersectionality too of the black church sort of as an institution, but also in myself as a servant leader. And so I took that, and I went into Wall Street.
And so I started my career, wanting to understand how wealth was created, and seeking always for myself, how to fulfill my own purpose and God's calling on my life. So that was strong in terms of my underpinning I kind of think of myself also a little bit. I ended up leaving Wall Street after being there for six years, because I did feel a different calling on my life. And part of that calling was around ensuring that I could take the lessons from Wall Street, and use them to a different degree. I felt like Nehemiah in that sense, for those of you familiar with Nehemiah. Leaving a very comfortable place and going to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
And so I ended up taking my journey to start a company, moved to Chicago, which is how brought me to Booth and throughout this journey, and now have transitioned from that experience, but still entrepreneur-minded, spending my days working with a company that we're, Next Street is a B Corp, so its mission oriented, and that has fulfilled for me, in its own for profit, desires as well. And then outside of that, I've tried to wrap up some of my thoughts around what does it mean to truly create wealth? I don't subscribe to the traditional view that wealth is just what's made up in the dollars and cents. I recently released a book that actually takes us beyond that, which is wealth is about your faith. It's about the relationship.
So it's given me an outlet outside of the constructs of a corporate sort of entity, similar to what Hillary was talking about, and that crossing of the line, but religion has been so important to me personally in my decisions as a leader at how I show up, but also in the type of work that I engage in on a day out basis.
Charisse, if I could stick with you for a minute, because you just use the word intersectionality, which reminded me that during our preparation call for this session Emmanuel pointed out that religion is intertwined with personal ethics, race, nationality, and other markers of identity. So could you expound a little bit on intersectionality of religion and business and how you see it fit in the larger DEI dialogue?
Charisse Conanan Johnson:
Absolutely. And I think to answer that question, particularly to making sure we're all on the same page and the vernacular, I look at diversity, equity and inclusion, and as related to that kind of intersectionality, and I see diversity, right? Those like all the ways in which people differ. And usually we tend to think of just a couple of classes: race, ethnicity, gender, right? But that also includes age, origin, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and I think, often, particularly in the work that we do, I think we need to be aspiring in business to have, I mean, I think everyone has seen many of the studies that talk about diversity is good for business, and the ways in which we can bring those various perspectives to the forefront as we make business decisions, and also how performance is even enhanced because of that diversity.
The second piece of that, you know, DEI, though, is about equity, which is about fair treatment, access, opportunity advancement for all people, right? And so we're trying to also eliminate barriers that have perhaps been put in place. A colleague of mine, for instance, shared with me, he's Pakistani, and he's Christian. And people automatically, sometimes, assume what religion he is. And some of the ways in which, different partners that we deal with might inadvertently sometimes handle, who he is, but also the class and which religion that they assume he is a part of. So when we talk about the equity piece, how can we make sure that there is fair treatment and advancement, particularly when we talking about people from across the Diaspora as it relates to religion?
And then inclusion, right, is around creating environments in which individuals or groups feel welcomed, respected. And I think a piece that we often forget is valued. And I think that value piece as we think about religion and in business, and the intersectionality, is so important, whether it's how we're doing strategies. There was an article out today, for instance, about all of these companies making commitments to racial equity, and making sure that we have inclusive ways to move forward. I think the same arguments can be made often, and often forgotten, around religion and places where not all voices are equally valued.
So those are the points I kind of wanna stress.
Thank you. And I wish we could stay on each one of them because they're actually but you know, Emmanuel said something in his opening statement, which was really fascinating about I think, did I hear you right, Emmanuel, when you was talking about the Muslim world, and its relationship to capitalism as being different from Ashkenazi American European capitalism?
Well, I think I mean, I'm quoting, basically Benjamin Franklin. But I mean, I think the birth of the modern banks and the modern investment bank are basically a Judeo-Christian process, which starts in Germany in Europe and grows to England and then to the U.S. And, you know, when I started in 1987, finishing from Booth, Morgan Stanley was seen as a Protestant bank and Goldman Sachs was seen as a Jewish bank. And it was very clear.
Now, I don't think it's remotely relevant. But at best, the Middle East was seen as a place where one would go and get money from. And I think the intellectual curiosity to learn a different culture, a different religion, a different ethos, a different way of life, was very close to zero. And I think people were incredibly ignorant about what else was happening in the world and obviously that has changed and that has changed and it's not always simple. One of the thing we are permanently confronted in as Charisse was saying, inclusion is very, very important. And in some of this country, the way women and the way the LGBT community are being treated are a very serious challenge for us. And it's something that we vehemently disagree with. And so this problems need to be addressed and need to be talked about. And I think people are gonna have different view.
And I think reasonable people in terms of what the best outcome is, are gonna disagree on the matter and try to get to a sensible solution. But I am encouraged by the fact that religion is seen as something which is very much protected in a workplace, that everyone is free to observe. I went to visit for two days, the Mormon Church, I knew nothing about the Mormon Church. But I went for two days in Salt Lake City, and I visited all the holy sites, at least the one, I was authorized to go with their head Bishop, who happens to be French. And it was fascinating, it was fascinating. And so it's also the ability to learn different things and learn different evangelion. You can look at transmis as being one of the apostle. He came a little late, right, but he came.
Now, what you saying about the LGBTQ community and about women, et cetera, is not independent, it's an example of Charisse's intersectionality is not independent of religion.
Thank you, I was gonna ask you about the experience of finance in the Islamic world. But I think we'll we'll move on, 'cause I think you've already suggested a lot of important things around that area and ask Hillary on a related topic, what we might call spiritually inclusive sportswear, like the pro-hijab, come to be a priority at Nike? And how does Nike seek out ideas for gear, for products that meet the sports needs of historically underrepresented athletes like Muslim women?
You know, it's interesting. There are individuals who contribute, and Eboo has written about one individual who raised it in a meeting, and that got some mindspace from people. But to the intersectionality point, I'd say that what really happened was Nike, for the first time, got serious about something. And it said a lot, which it was turning its focus on to women as significantly as its focus on men.
And when looking at women, and women of all different stripes, it was impossible not to notice that observant Muslim women, could face impediments because of their dress requirements in engaging. And thus we were drawn to it as part of thinking about women inclusively.
And what is every problem? What are all of the problems, women who wanna be active face? And a willingness to lead to wherever that went? Including a lot of people, I would say, we have to own it, there was pushback in the United States, about, from both sides, there were some very strict Muslims who wrote in and said, we shouldn't be encouraging the level of independence among the young female community in the way we were with our emboldened kind of advertising to say, go out and grab yourself be your best self, no matter what, there are people from the community itself, who didn't like it.
And then there were people from the other side who were saying, why are you normalizing the abnormal, and I think at a certain point, as a business, you just have to say, we live in a pluralistic world. And if you wanna succeed, you have to decide what's truly important to you. And what's truly important to us, that every individual who wants to physically move their body in order to improve their life, get the tools they need to do it. And if you put that at the top of the list, then it's just a question of removing the barriers to how you see the opportunities. And that gets back to the points my fellow panelists have made so well, about the importance of representation, along with equity, but then most importantly, which is the inclusion piece, I think, and I would say the word here how we think about it is belonging.
It's more than you're just being valued, it's that everybody belongs, you need to take out your prayer mat, you go do that, I need to order something different to be delivered at lunch, I'm gonna do that and the more we can do that, the better we're gonna be.
And the last thing I'll say is I also happen to be in a truly global business, so we can get lost in the racial dynamics here in the United States. But I'll just say that it drives sensitivity to everything when you operate in the global world.
One example, Converse put out a really cute pair of Chuck Taylor shoes on which they put Horton from "Horton Hears a Who!" from Dr. Seuss, right? And we distributed all around the worlds. Well, when you put an elephant on the feet of Muslim people that is, I mean, it was a very terrible thing that we had done in India, we faced all sorts of problems from the Hindu population.
You can make really big cultural mistakes, if you don't have a lot of self awareness and embrace diversity. I am of the Judeo-Christian tradition, if I review copy or pictures, I'm gonna miss huge amount of what will be sensitive and offensive to other people in the world. So I have to be aware of that, and then try to hire into and work around my own weaknesses.
And I use me as one example of an executive in a pluralistic setting. And I think we all need to do that and surround ourselves with those people who know what we don't know, and can make us smarter about those things. Particularly when it comes to the very sensitive, particulars of different religion. It's like the person who served Eboo who was able to recognize his questions. We need helpers to get us all to that point.
And the truth is, as you say that when you function, the larger and larger your space, so when it comes global, many of the questions about religion, about intersection now all these questions are different than the ones that are so familiar to us here. That's a really important point to remember.
Charisse, I was gonna ask you a complicated question, but I just wanna ask you, you spoke about, in "Wealthy Girl," you speak about the importance of I think about the importance of flexing your faith muscle in business, it's important for business people to flex their faith muscle. Why? What do you mean by that?
Charisse Conanan Johnson:
Sure, Sure. So take one step back, and also just share, it's tied to an earlier comment I made. I believe if we kind of reframe this wealth equation to include other intangible assets, like our face, we can all, one, obtain wealth, that's actually accessible for all. And then two, be able to enjoy some peace and prosperity and personal power along the way.
By faith in my Christian sense, faith is you know, the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen yet, but I actually think the concept of faith is is also accessible to all regardless of where you fall in the religious spectrum or not on the spectrum, because I think all of us can identify with even the element of hope, right? We can hope for things that we cannot see yet. And so part of that exercising that kind of faith, or that hope, is, A., trying to develop solutions that can meet market demand, B., trying to persevere when things aren't going our way as workers, as owners, as people part of a broader community. And C., trying to make sure that that folks around us, 'cause we are in community with others, almost to Hillary's point to where we're in proximation or proximate leadership a lot of the time, How can we create some visions for things that haven't existed in the past?
Without the faith, even in the Nike example, that we were actually gonna get to a different outcome, we wouldn't actually believe that it was possible when we would not have done it. So faith, I think, and developing a muscle around it, which takes experimentation, which takes courage, which takes the ability to vision things that you can't see yet, is critical, one, as business leaders, but also in relation to the community that is around us.
And I think perhaps in the last 12 to 15 months in our COVID pandemic, in our racial injustice around the world and obviously pronounced here in United States, because many of the inequities that were apparent, became even more pronounced, it has taken a bit of faith to figure out what, again, how can we address those things that perhaps have always been there to some extent, but require us to rethink about what is normal. That is the faith that I want people to think about developing.
You speak about the pandemic, and we could go on for, we have a long list of questions we wanted to talk about. When you speak by the pandemic, and that just reminds us that the question of the intersection of religion and business is changing every day. So today, employers are all thinking about employee mandates for vaccines, but should we do should? And of course, the most, apart from the health exemption from vaccination, religious exemption is the most frequently invoked. This is a question before I imagine every general counsel of every company in the U.S right now. And it's a new question, and newly transformed by the intersection of religion and the pandemic, most recent Supreme Court ruling, et cetera. So these questions are alive, but time is limited. And I know we have the students from the Booth Religious Clubs who have prepared questions for you, and I want to give them plenty of time to ask them, so I will cede the floor and leave you to our questioners.
Is that Dallin? - Dallin, if you'd like to go ahead and unmute yourself and ask your question.
Yeah, sure. Hi, my name is Dallin. I'm a representative, the Association of Students with the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints, and Eboo, I have a question for you. How would you characterize the climate of religious inclusivity today? Generally speaking, like where we're at, and also what is the ideal state?
I think you're muted.
You're on mute.
Sorry about that. Thanks for that question. I'm gonna speak about businesses in particular here, because this is, it's a business school event.
So I think that we are at 1950 when it comes the full, the broad recognition of the importance of religious diversity in the private sector, right?
By which I mean we are way behind where we ought to be--70 years behind the current date, and behind the way that other identity and diversity issues are playing out. And the data point that I would offer is, is the fact that, you know, according to a PRI survey, most people encounter religious diversity at work, when people say what's the most religiously diverse place when people are asked, where do you encounter religious diversity? At work or in employment is the highest ranked thing, right? So that's kind of interesting and striking.
And if we think about the reason that companies are in business, it is to offer better products and services to a population. We absolutely want employee belonging, we absolutely want interesting conversations about the history of religious traditions and the emergence of capitalism. But the reason we are in business is to offer better products and services to populations.
And so I actually think that the Nike story with the Nike Women's Victory wear is that the line of swimsuits that were designed for Muslim women, that story is in a way a perfect counterpoint to the Abercrombie story. The Abercrombie story, a young woman walks into an Abercrombie & Fitch, she's got an article on her head, the hiring managers do not know what it is, and they literally do not hire her because of that, right? It's in the email, in the email correspondence. We don't know what that is, it doesn't abide by our policy.
In the Nike story, VP at Nike is sitting on a beach one day, and she is watching all these people go in the water except one population of women, Muslim women. She wonders to herself, why aren't those women going in the water and then it occurs to her, nobody makes swimsuits that adhere to their religious standards of modesty. Well, just so happens, I work at Nike. We will make those swimsuits, right?
If you just do the rough math, if there's a billion and a half Muslims in the world, if half of them are women, and if half of those women wear headscarves or adhere to a particular standard of Islamic modesty. That's a huge market. That's an opportunity to design better products and services for tens, if not hundreds of millions of women. And so I think the kind of full frontal recognition of the importance of religious diversity is absolutely bull's eye mission, about what companies do. It's not, you know, super important things. But employee belonging doesn't exist, unless you have products and services that people are buying.
We live in a hyper religiously diverse world, there are umpteen opportunities to consider religious identity in the products and services that people desire.
Thanks Eboo. And thanks, Dallin.
Shazia, would you like to ask your question?
Absolutely, thank you guys so much for being here, and for doing this. It's obviously a very interesting topic. And my question is a little long winded. So please stay with me, my question is for Emmanuel.
As this speaker series has highlighted, there is an increasing need to discuss and bring to light social equity, and the role that American businesses play in advancing or undermining social equity and justice. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement, many American businesses acknowledged that they played a role in redlining and had discriminatory practices in the face of some consumer criticism, but probably more so in the face of a lot of consumer demand.
So with that example, now looking at the situation in Israel and Palestine, what moral obligations do American businesses have to avoid working with governments and militaries that are committing human rights abuses against Palestinians, as documented by the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch?
I'm, you know what? I'm glad you asked the question. And honestly, I struggle with this because I don't know what to do.
So I've read the same news that you have. I read the New York Times and The Washington Post, and the killing of innocent children and older bystanders is absolutely senseless. And it's an enormous problem for me morally. And there's many ways to communicate your own happiness. We are the second largest holder of treasury bond and we own a lot of debt in many different countries 'cause we do fixed income. So there are many ways for us to communicate our views to government directly, and we do so.
But that's sort of the easy answer. The more complicated question is, should CEO of American company be very vocal right now? Looking at what's happening, and are the double standard depending on the topic you talk about? And are there certain issues that people feel quite good about themselves, in terms of calling spade a spade, and others where it's in a matter in terms of what you can and cannot say?
And God knows, I thought about mentioning this at the beginning, I feel terrible about it, I don't know what to do. If you have any strong view, call me after this. And tell me what I think I should be doing because it sits incredibly badly with me. And I unfortunately, don't have the magic answer.
We make very little political statement, as a matter of fact, but that's not a political statement, that's a human rights issue. And I don't know, maybe Hillary you have a better answer than me as a big consumer good but it is incredibly difficult for, I think, a lot of us.
And look, it's not the only one, right? I mean, there's other issues where you feel absolutely terrible every time there's ethnic cleansing. And there's, unfortunately, there's plenty of situation around the world where terrible things are happening.
And you know, the easier thing to do is to send an email to everybody and say, you know, people feel terrible about this, and so on, so forth. It's sort of like the get out of jail card. And in my book, it's not good enough.
So, you know, David, who knows me very well will tell you, for example, I have a very strong view against death penalty. And I'm French, and that's where I come from. And I think it's a terrible thing. What did I do? I gave a lot of money to the ACLU, to fight the death penalty. That's the way I can live with myself.
But you know, there's many other things where I don't have a good answer to give you. And I think one of the merit of a frequent recession is you call me on it. You haven't dodged the issue, you just call me on it. And I gave you a pretty weak answer.
I appreciate your willingness to continue the conversation.
No, and they know where to find me. I'm assuming you're going to University of Chicago?
Okay. Well, you know, where to find me.
Oh yeah, thank you all and Charisse, and I'm sorry, my Zoom, just changed views. So apologies, but I think everything's good.
Charisse, I wanna mention that, you know, I spend most of my life, non-denominational Protestant, I converted to Catholicism later, I have my CFA getting my MBA, so really connected with a lot of what you shared.
My question is, if we reflect back in the last 12 months, across the religious spectrum, even in secular, we would say that what's captured the heart of society is perhaps, you know, the fight to combat systemic racism, which is good, and something we all need to do.
My question is, you know, when we are like, in specific situations, how do we balance when to view through the lens of systemic racism, which might have the implication of treating others, or viewing others differently based on race in order to account for and remediate the group disparities, so to right the wrongs, versus perhaps viewing through the lens of certain aspects of Christianity where, like, in Galatians, where the idea of in Christ, there's no Jew or Gentile, there's no male or female.
You know, man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart. So, you know, how do we prioritize if there's ever any tension between the different lenses?
Charisse Conanan Johnson:
First of all, appreciate the heftiness of that question. And this is a great question.
So my personal view is that, that actually, I think, these two, what you're calling tensions, I actually think that they go hand-in-hand. And so I would perhaps, maybe, think about them, perhaps not being so much in conflict, but actually then maybe even reinforcing each other.
And the way I think about that is to the first point of the reality of racism in this country. And I say the reality part of I think accepting racism is trying to have a deep understanding-- what you seem to have of what that is. And for those, just so that we're again, on a similar language, racism is about it's about racial prejudice, plus the misuse of power by a dominant group, and in America, that dominant group has been white people. But that dominant group that pervades institutions, systems, and organizations. So like, inherently, in order to eradicate racism, one must work at the system's level, as opposed to like the individual level.
And so then when I think about the second piece, which is then here, I am a, you know, Christian, and identifying, and God's love is for all, if we're working to, you know, dismantle systems, then I actually think God's love helps us to do that, regardless of whether we're white, black, Jew, Christian, like we should all be working toward, hopefully, to sort of dismantle things that are preventing other people from having equity in this country.
And so I like to lead with what is God calling me to do and how am I then using my own position of power and authority to work toward those issues? And, you know, ultimately, for me, God is about love. And if God also, and Christ also has influenced me to work toward fighting for injustice, fighting for the oppressed, fighting for people who might not have a voice, then if that's a constant, then that is God's love.
And I think at certain times in history, we might be fighting for one group more than another. And that's okay. But I think about it less so in conflict with each other, but more so kind of affirming like, that's the whole point. And it's not about favoritism, as opposed to let's all work to write some of the wrongs that are pervading our systems and at really at a holistic level.
Thank you so much. Before I start, I just wanted to say I also went to Baylor for undergrad. So even though I think I've probably been to that barbecue restaurant that you mentioned. Probably a big fan, too.
But my question for Hilary was really just thinking about, as a leader in a large company that doesn't have explicitly a religious or social impact purpose, how do you still cultivate a spirit of generosity, just among your colleagues, or among friends?
We just had a conversation this weekend with other Christians at Booth about being more generous and kind of living out that practice. And so just curious to hear your thoughts on that point, as well.
So thank you, that's a great question. That's really applicable to everybody in the world, in every situation, at every school and at every business, we could all find generosity of spirit as well as material wealth, we'd be in a much different place.
Nike is animated by sport. And sport includes team, and making the most of kind of everyone's potential. And if that, like, if you've ever been on a team, you know that like, you gotta contribute to the other people, the individual star kind of never wins, you can think they win, and we celebrate them, but we also celebrate right next to them, this sense of community and sense of team and helping other people be better.
And that's how we work in the workplace. And our diversity is our hidden strength. I know where the statistics come from, because we're nowhere near where we should be, but we're pretty good. And the reason why is because we find that if when you give to somebody and open that door, it automatically almost pays you back with the gift back. And so even in a commercial sense, you get rewarded for being open. And having values and prioritizing these things because you get a more motivated employee base, who cares about each other, and also is willing to do the extra thing in a moment of generosity for the team.
And so we're always hearing teamwork is dream work. Like, I could tell you all the dumb Nike slogans that people might laugh at, but at the end of the day, it does deliver against this sense of it's not about any individual, it's about each individual bringing their best and being able to bring their best to make the team succeed. When we're in that place, we're winning, when the company has been at its worst, and I've been here for a while and so there have been times it's because individuals or cliques or groups become more about their own success or profile, than about our group collectivism. And you could actually trace in my view the results of the company, to those moments when we've lost that sense of team.
So that's a strange way to, and a call on religion, but you asked it of a sports company leader, so you get the sports answer.
Well, it's very powerful. And I think that that sense of collectivism is what we've been talking about tonight. So thank you all so much. It's just a real pleasure to have had you here tonight. Thank you so much to those of you who've joined us. I've posted a few events, you're interested in staying more deeply connected to social impact at Booth, we invite you to find us.
We have On Board Conference on Friday and Booth Service, an event through the Hong Kong Jockey Club program on Social Innovation. And really the capstone event of our social entrepreneurship programming, the John Edwardson '72 Social New Venture Challenge Finals are coming up on Tuesday, June 1, and are just an incredible chance to be inspired by social entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago.
So I've one more ask of you tonight, we'd love to hear your feedback on this event. And there will be a short survey that comes up when you try to exit the webinar. If you could just take a moment to complete it, that would be great.
Thank you so much, and I hope to see many of you at the finals for the John Edwardson '72 Social New Venture Challenge.
Thank you so much Dean Nirenberg and to our panelists.
On Tuesday, May 18, the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and the University of Chicago Divinity School hosted the fourth session in the Innovating for Social Equity event series, which examines how the philanthropic and private sectors can do better and more to achieve meaningful change. This session sought answers to the question, "In the broader conversation about diversity in business, what is the context for religion?" David Nirenberg, dean of the Divinity School and Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor, was joined in conversation with prominent business leaders whose business strategies take religious diversity into account.
- David Nirenberg, Dean of the Divinity School and Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor
- Charisse Conanan Johnson, MBA '10, Managing Partner, Next Street
- Hilary Krane, JD '94, Executive Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel, Nike
- Eboo Patel, Founder and Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Core
- Emmanuel Roman, MBA '87, Chief Executive Officer, PIMCO
This conversation explored climate change mitigation and sustainability efforts at Waste Management, including its waste reduction initiatives, among other topics.Perspectives in Sustainability: Fireside Chat with Jim Fish, '98, CEO of Waste Management
“A lot of the best candidates for Civic Scholars are people who don’t think they want an MBA,” says Kyle Johnson, ’19.Chicagoan Uses Scholarship to Innovate Within Nonprofit Sector