I remember my old office mate, Tara, telling me about a party she went to once with some of the big wigs at Sandia. Tara was not a religious person, and perhaps a little anti-religious, and she was surprised when a VP asked her what church she went to. Fortunately, she never had to answer the question because a timely interruption came along. She was surprised religion mattered so much.
Religion has long been important at Sandia. Specifically, evangelical and Mormon denominations. Many employees keep a copy of the bible on their desk, email signatures frequently quote Christian scripture (never the Koran), and early morning prayer is not an uncommon way for a group of colleagues to start the day. On an open employee forum, someone posted a link to an LA Times article covering research on how secular parents teach morals to their children. The article concluded that secular parents do very well raising their children to have strong ethics, but it was removed as being inappropriate material. The message is clear that Sandia, especially its managers, is a strong Christian organization.
The question of what church you go to should never be asked in the context of a work-related event or even a party. How could Tara have answered that she didn’t go to church without harming her career? There’s a far gap between a concerned colleague offering to pray for you during an illness (appreciated) to the executive manager who insists on knowing what church you belong to (potentially exclusionary, discriminatory and not appreciated). The message from executive management is that if you don’t go to church, there’s something wrong with you.
Sunday mornings, small groups at church, and bible studies are where relationships are formed and strengthened at Sandia. It is, in essence, another form of the good old boy’s network with a twist. Some amount of this is natural – we all have the right to worship how we choose. However, it is strong at Sandia, and it forms an invisible but very real barrier with profound consequences on the careers of many employees.
Houses of worship are still very divided racially and ethnically in America. You may not feel welcome or comfortable in an evangelical or Mormon church because of your color, but not feeling welcome in the worship halls frequented by Sandia managers leaves you at a disadvantage in terms of networking.
Not being Christian is even a further reach. Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Jews may well feel out of place in a company where they represent a very small percentage of employees. Muslim employees who make outward show of their faith may find themselves ostracized and are often looked at with some level of fear. I recall a young Muslim student intern who covered her hair and joyfully brought in a cake she had baked to celebrate the end of Ramadan. She explained briefly in an email that she had brought in a cake to mark the end of Ramadan and invited the workgroup to have a piece. This would have been akin to emailing the workgroup inviting them to stop by for a Christmas cookie. That would not be considered inappropriate, but publicly mentioning the end of Ramadan was. She was reprimanded by her manage Kim for being inappropriate in the workplace. Had she offered a chocolate Easter egg, it would not have been an issue.
Consider the kinds of denominations popular at Sandia, specifically the megachurches and Mormon denomination. These denominations generally believe that women must not be allowed to rule over a man and quote Ephesians as justification.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Women are not included in the highest levels of church leadership. Women are instructed that they should submit to their husbands as the head of the household. How then can we expect that managers steeped in this tradition can whole-heartedly promote the careers of women at Sandia? They cannot when they hold the belief that women should not rule over men. The fundamentally do not view women as equal.
New Mexico is a state with a high proportion of Catholics. However, Catholicism is not viewed as being on par with protestant faith. Wearing a cross is acceptable, but wearing a crucifix around your neck is less so. If you do, you’d better be Hispanic as there is a feeling that Whites should know better. A bible on your desk is acceptable, a nail or picture depicting the agony of Christ is not. New Mexico Hispanics who are evangelical can hope for faster promotion than Hispanics who are Catholic. Whites should be protestant and evangelical in the view of Sandia management.
There is one category of employee that is particularly incomprehensible to Sandia management. The secular, atheist and/or agnostic employee with no faith affiliation. This is the non-believer that is going to hell and will not be saved by Jesus. Management look at these employees with pity, with scorn, and with a desire to proselytize. Many millennials fall in this category and eschew organized religion. Back to the awkward situation Tara was in. If she had not been interrupted, she would have had to answer the question of what church does she go to? What a career trap.
The message is clear: if you want to be one of us, you must worship like us and go to our churches. The Christian network is huge at Sandia, and if you fall outside of it, you have a steep obstacle in your way if you seek promotion. If you are a woman, you are not meant to be in a leadership role but rather to serve the men around you. Overcoming obstacles that represent core beliefs is nearly impossible.
Again, everyone has a right to worship as they wish. Consider the male manager who hears on Sunday that women should be subservient and submissive to men and that only people who believe like him will be saved and are good people. How can he come into the office on Monday and see women and non-believers (in his view) as equal colleagues worthy of promotions? He cannot. They are non-believers, sinners, people of less stature and importance, people who are ultimately headed to hell for eternity.
The answer? Promote diversity. Not only in gender and race, but also in religious beliefs. It is required by your own internal policies as well as by law. And by promote, I mean to actually raise up the career ladder, and not the kind of ineffective promotion that Sandia is prone to do. No more posters and unenforced commandments to not discriminate. Sandia management: promote people who are not like yourselves. Take off your 70-year-old glasses and look around and see what a wonderful mix of religious beliefs are around you and don’t be frightened by it. A Muslim as your boss is not going to harm you. A woman leading a group is not offensive in the eyes of God. Hindu and Buddhist beliefs are not superstition. Recall the reason many of us came to America – religious freedom.