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Loraine Martins MBE FRSA: My thoughts on Acas' religion or belief discrimination guidance

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Loraine Martins MBE FRSA, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Network Rail discusses Acas' religion or belief discrimination guidance.

Loraine Martins

Loraine Martins MBE FRSA

Loraine leads a centre of expertise which supports Network Rail's ambition to be a more open, diverse and inclusive business. She was awarded an MBE for her work on E&D around the construction of the Olympic Park in 2012. Loraine is the vice chair of the Trust for London, a grant-making body which tackles inequality and poverty in the capital and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

I'm pleased that the Acas guidance on Religion or belief discrimination and pdf icon Religion or belief discrimination: key points for the workplace [479kb] has been published. And it's particularly helpful during Ramadan. This guidance is a welcome addition to the resources available to large organisations like Network Rail. We boast some 38,000 employees who work on the safest and fastest growing railway in Europe. We are dispersed with people working in a variety of environments - offices, depots, and trackside and at stations.

Forty-two per cent of our people have indicated whether or not they have a religion and four years ago, based on our monitoring data we established a multi-faith employee network, which brings together people of different religions and of no faith.

The employee network has an executive sponsor who acts as a critical friend and provides support for their initiatives. From funding visits to temples or mosques, to supporting research on the impact of religion on the workplace, the sponsor is there to offer a sounding board to the network. Similarly, the sponsor learns about different faiths and the issues that employees may encounter in the workplace.  Where there are challenges, the sponsor helps to address them, and where there is progress the sponsor can help share it.

With some two hundred members spread throughout the business and across all grades, the multi-faith employee network is having a positive impact not only on its members, but also on the business as a whole. The members regularly celebrate different religious festivals through our corporate intranet, from Hanukah to Eid, to Easter, and publish articles and blogs about their faith and what it means for them as individuals.

Over the last four years the network has been influential in building a corporate understanding of different religions. Based on their learning from collaboration with Lloyds Bank, the network has recently launched a 'Just Ask' campaign. It is designed to encourage colleagues who notice different religious symbols, or are curious to ask the question and engage in a positive exchange. This is helping to promote openness and learning about difference in a safe and receptive environment.

The network has also been prominent in Network Rail's establishment of prayer facilities within our offices and on stations, by providing guidance about requirements and testing out facilities. Similarly they have been effective in informing our sourcing and storage of food when we're catering for meetings and conferences.

Creating space for religion and belief in the workplace is not straightforward. Some employees do not see the need for the space for religion and object to what they view as the promotion of religion. Others think that religion is a private matter. We have worked to hear those views whilst creating an environment which is inclusive of difference. Our network undertake their activities on top of their day-jobs, so there is always a need to balance the demands of paid work and the needs of the members, and we have recently introduced a time-charge code for the leadership team, so that they can document the time spent on network activities.

The Acas guidance is balanced, pragmatic and easy to work with, providing useful pointers whether you're an individual or an organisation. I wish it had been available when we started our network!

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