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Salesforce Interfaith Leader on Increasing Understanding at Work

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series that highlights employees leading Salesforce Equality Groups. Be sure to check out additional interviews with the leaders of Vetforce, Latinoforce, and Abilityforce.

We’re taking a closer look at Salesforce’s 13 Equality Groups — or employee-led business resource groups — to better understand how they drive inclusion and belonging.

For this interview, we chatted with with Michael Roberts, a strategic solutions engineer at Salesforce and Global President of Faithforce, to learn more about how our interfaith business resource group supports, celebrates, and fosters understanding of global beliefs at Salesforce and in our broader ecosystem.

Q. How would you describe Faithforce?

Faithforce is a Salesforce community where belief is celebrated. We make sure people can bring their full selves to work to share some of the most intimate parts of their lives. We also work to create opportunities for employees to feel seen and heard by their colleagues around them.

And we’re seeing a lot of interest from our employees to belong to a group like this — last year, Faithforce’s global membership grew 21% to over 5,600 people today.

Q. How did you get involved with Equality Groups at Salesforce?

I actually helped start Faithforce in 2017. I was chatting with a colleague of mine who is an out, gay man. He said to me, “It’s surprising that I can be out and proud as a gay man, but you feel like you need to hide your Christian faith at work.”

It made me wonder what type of role belief plays in our larger Equality strategy. When I couldn’t find an answer, I started to research what this looked like at other organizations and had many conversations with our Chief Equality Officer and other leaders at Salesforce. It ultimately led us to create a new interbelief model that has now been adopted by many of our peers.

Q. The interbelief model is quite unique. Could you tell us more about it?

An interbelief model is important because it gives us an environment that encourages leaning in and listening. It comes down to two key values. The first is curiosity, helping us ask questions and gain understanding of different beliefs. The second is trust, so we can increase vulnerability and ultimately create space to disagree respectfully with one another.

We borrowed models of allyship from other Equality Groups at Salesforce. Allyship, in this case, allows people to learn about religious traditions that are not their own and realize that we have more in common than not.

An interbelief model is important because it gives us an environment that encourages leaning in and listening.

Q. Why is it important to be able to express belief in the workplace?

For many, belief is a huge part of our identities — it impacts the decisions we make and how we live our lives. Hiding who you are can take away from your ability to show up as your full self and be successful at work. And ultimately, there are plenty of studies that show how a sense of belonging can help teams deliver better results, too.

Someone may need to take a certain holiday off or they may be fasting and want to share that with their manager or colleagues. Holding space to have those conversations and not feel shame around them allows us to create a more inclusive workplace where individuals can thrive.

Q. What are your biggest priorities as president of Faithforce?

My first priority is to make an impact on our business. We’re focused on helping leaders across our company understand how belief-based employees navigate the workforce, the diverse perspectives they bring, and some of the challenges they face. We give managers resources to be great allies to people with belief.

And, we’re focused on building bridges and encouraging employees to lean in and have conversations with people who might have a different perspective than their own. It’s not always about agreeing, but about walking away with respect and empathy for each other.

Q. One way Faithforce builds understanding is through the Faithforce Duos program. Can you tell us more about it?

People inherently want to know each other’s stories; to understand their values. That is true of beliefs too — we want to know what makes people believe what they do. Faithforce Duos connects two people from different beliefs to share and acknowledge each others’ stories. They meet four times over the course of a month, and in doing so, learn from someone with a different background.

The feedback has been exceptional. Eighty-one percent of participants planned to meet regularly with their partner after the program ended, and 90% report that they would participate in the program again. It’s helped overcome bias and misunderstanding of different beliefs.

Q. What have you found most rewarding as a member of Faithforce?

The way belief has been normalized in our company culture. I love when a new leader starts and proudly displays their beliefs on a slide without any stigma around it. We’ve overcome a lot of barriers to talking about belief at work.

I also love when people reach out to me or Faithforce because they want to be a better ally to someone of faith. For example, they might be organizing a meeting and want to make sure their team member, who is observing Ramadan, can be a part of it.

When we started Faithforce, the interfaith model was brand new. Since then, it’s been amazing to see peers in other organizations adopt it. This year, Salesforce was recognized as the fourth most faith-friendly company on the Religious Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (REDI) Index.

Q. What’s the most surprising or unexpected thing you’ve learned during your time as a leader?

I’ve had to learn the power of listening well. There have been many moments where I haven’t been in a position to change the outcome for an individual — even if I do everything in my power — but listening goes a long way in helping people feel seen and heard.

Icebreaker Questions

  • What is your favorite Faithforce event?
    • I love Hannukah 360. It’s an annual event where we light a candle around the world at different times of the day. We have employees in New York and Israel with large Jewish populations and folks in Brazil with small Jewish populations, and it’s amazing to see them all come together. This year, we even had over 70 colleagues in Hyderabad start their day early to celebrate this event despite none of them being Jewish.
  • What is your favorite Christian holiday or tradition?
    • I really love Easter Sunday. In Australia, we have a tradition to make hot cross buns, which are breakfast buns with raisins and a crust. Easter Sunday is an important holiday for me — there is so much celebration and it’s central to the hope I have about the future.
  • Outside of your work, what are some of your personal interests or hobbies?
    • I’m a coffee snob, I love skiing, and I love hosting and cooking for friends.

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