How employee resource groups are helping companies support Muslim employees during Ramadan and beyond

April 18, 2023, 4:03 PM UTC
People gather at Bergen Diyanet Mosque and Cultural Center to break their fast.
Faith Aktas—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Hello and Ramadan Mubarak, everyone.

Ramadan ends this Thursday with Eid al-Fitr, the festive celebration marking the end of the month-long period of prayer and fasting for Muslims.

One can find nearly everything to know about Eid on Google, thanks in part to the efforts of the search giant’s ERG, which played an outsized role in making sure that a search for Ramadan information—timing, celebration ideas, recipes—would populate something other than anti-Muslim sentiment on the site. That was not always the case. “If you look at Ramadan searches from 2016, the page was very stale, but also full of the bigotry that was being perpetuated in the media,” Alaa Aissi, the global co-lead for Google’s Muslims@ ERG, told raceAhead last month. After internal collaboration informed by Muslim employees, the site better reflects the needs and lived experiences of the world’s nearly 2 billion Muslims.

It feels like an inclusion success story.

I’m regularly uncovering successes like these in my reporting, specifically instances where companies tap ERGs to not only accommodate employees but improve products, services, and the stakeholder experience.

Last month, I caught up with Jada McFadden, a people experience manager who oversees the strategy for SAP’s employee network groups (ENGs). Her primary concern is creating psychological safety, which she aims to do through regular check-ins with ENG leads, who speak candidly about the employee experience. “I want them to provide real feedback,” she says. “I want them to see me as a real resource.”

She cites, by way of example, one Muslim employee who suggested that the company provide training resources so all staffers know how to support Muslim employees during Ramadan. “It was asking us to further the message of empathy and understanding for employees during Ramadan,” says McFadden. “And she helped us write a ‘how to be an ally’ guidebook for SAP employees.”

That guidebook highlights the unique challenges of working through Ramadan—fasting, scheduling, exhaustion, and finding a place to pray, among them—and lit the way for further changes across the company.

“The initiative started in our Montreal office to create dedicated prayer rooms and foot-washing stations,” she says, with their New York and Philadelphia offices following suit. SAP will provide similar accommodations at its global Sapphire customer conferences, which anyone of any faith can use. It’s a public-facing change that sends a broader message about how the company has learned to listen, she says. “That change to our large events comes from direct feedback from our interfaith group, [to be used by] anyone who may be practicing their faith and who just needs the time.”

Ellen McGirt

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ruth Umoh.

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On Background

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Parting Words

“I always used to say I’m not going to knock on closed doors—I’m going to make my own door. When I come here, I’m walking through my own doors. I built my own door. I built it.”

Director Ava DuVernay, talking about her production company, Array, which produced the Netflix miniseries When They See Us, about the Central Park Five case.

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