The secret to business success? These leaders say it could be celebrating faith

© Illustration by Alex Cochran, Deseret News

Intel has been a star in the technology world for nearly half a century. One secret to its success is a little more spiritual than you might have guessed, according to CEO Pat Gelsinger.

In a recorded message that will play during an international conference on business and religion this week, Gelsinger highlights the competitive advantage that comes from building a culture that celebrates personal faith alongside other employee traits. At Intel, workers are free to “bring their entire self” to the office, he says.

“When we take into account everyone’s nuanced differences, we put our organizations in a position to capture truly sustainable business advantages,” Gelsinger says.

Intel put itself in that position in part by enabling employees to form resource groups based on religion, says Sandra Rivera, the organization’s former chief people officer and current executive vice president, in the same video. Currently, Intel has seven such groups, including one for atheists and agnostics, she says.

The company champions “how important faith and belief is to our employees,” Rivera says.

In so doing, Intel improves the lives of more than just its workers, argues Brian Grim, the founder and president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, which organized the conference. He says leaders like Rivera and Gelsinger are paving the way toward a more peaceful world.

“Businesses that embrace religious freedom can change entire cultures,” in addition to influencing faith-related laws, he says.

The goal of Grim’s foundation is to push more companies to acknowledge and even celebrate their employees’ religious identities. One way they work toward achieving that is by handing out awards to business leaders who are modeling the right approach toward faith.

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“Businesses can make a huge impact on people’s lives,” Grim says.

This year, Gelsinger and Rivera from Intel will receive one of three gold medals handed out during the Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards, which the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation puts on in cooperation with the Business for Peace Initiative of the United Nations Global Compact.

Other gold medalists include Dr. Judith Richter, who runs Medinol, an Israeli heart stent company, and founded NIR School of the Heart to help high school students pursue careers in medicine and heal interreligious divides, and King Husein, the chairman and CEO of Span Construction & Engineering who helped lead a roundtable for business leaders on international religious freedom during the 2019 United Nations general assembly in New York City.

The awards are valuable because they help people understand that there are many different ways for business leaders to create a faith-friendly environment and champion religious freedom, Grim says. No two honorees approach religious diversity in the same way.

At Intel, Gelsinger, Rivera and other company leaders lean most heavily on the employee resource groups that Rivera mentions in the video. Through these groups, workers form connections that help them navigate challenges both inside and outside the workplace, Grim says, noting that he’s heard of a Christian Intel employee connecting with the Muslim resource group in order to prepare for a job-related move to a Muslim-dominated country.

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At Tyson Foods, on the other hand, Chairman John Tyson, who is one of this year’s silver medalists, honors his employees’ religious identities by having two full-time chaplains on staff, Grim says.

The chaplains “fill a need that sometimes can’t be met outside of the office, especially during COVID-19 shutdowns,” he says.

Regardless of what form they come in, faith-related resources for employees can help businesses recruit and retain great workers, Grim says.

“It’s good for business. That’s ultimately why companies embrace this,” he argues.

It’s also good for society, says Husein, who is being recognized for his advocacy work. He believes religious freedom activism that originates in the workplace has a more powerful impact than government-led efforts.

“I think if businesses can understand that (religious freedom is good for business) and embrace it and promote it within their own countries we then do not need the government to get involved,” Husein says.

The Global Business & Interfaith Peace Awards event will take place virtually on Tuesday, Aug. 24, at noon Eastern. Attendees will have an opportunity to interact with the winners.

To learn more about the event or register to attend the awards ceremony, check out the Dare to Overcome conference website. Registration costs $20, but you can request a scholarship by emailing contact@religiousfreedomandbusiness.org, Grim said.

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