Religion is the new frontier in workplace discrimination
ABC News

ABC News

David Brent, the antihero of the classic British satire The Office, had a crude line in jokes about race, disability, sex and sexuality.

When he quipped about “Oliver, the office black guy” or the “disableds” or his gay colleagues — “one in 10, apparently, that seems a bit high” — he never thought he was being anything but liberal-minded and funny.

Brent’s humour was, even then, out of bounds, and properly so. No one should be mocked for how they are or how they were born.

Yet some people still believe it’s OK to joke about an element intrinsic to many people’s character — their religious faith.

Michael Wakelin, a consultant to UK businesses and associate at Cambridge University’s Interfaith Initiative, says some people are “really hostile” to religion in the workplace.

“Religion is now the biggest butt of jokes in the office. It’s replaced gender and race,” he says.

“People think you can just laugh at it. It matters to people. You can’t do that anymore.”

Mr Wakelin spent 23 years at the BBC, most of them as head of the Religion and Ethics Department, overseeing its television, radio and online content.

He was a keynote speaker at the recent G20 Interfaith Summit in Potsdam, Germany, where he discussed the new “religious literacy” program he is running with the international management consulting firm Ernst & Young.

The program does not aim to make people more or less religious — only to be aware of faith’s importance to co-workers and clients.

“If you’re the sort of person that thinks religious people don’t have any friends, don’t blink very often and don’t go out much, that’s not a good place to start your religious literacy training,” Mr Wakelin quips.

“But religion’s not going anywhere, so let’s deal with it.”