Full comments from Kent Johnson and Siraj Akhtar

A conversation with Texas Instruments’
Terry Howard , Director of Diversity  *  Kent Johnson, Sr. Attorney   *   Siraj Akthar, Sr. Design Engineer

Be Careful About What You Say “No” To! -By Tasnim Benhalim

Full comments from:
•  Kent Johnson, Sr. Attorney at Texas Instruments
•  Siraj Akhtar , Sr. Design Engineer at Texas Instruments

KENT Johnson’s comments:

1.     What are the attitudes / perspectives on diversity @ TI that created the opportunity for the religious initiatives to be formed in the first place ?

“Focus on “full engagement” of all employees . Our top managers could have chosen to say ‘no’ to any official sanction of faith in the workplace.   Many of us are very proud of our leaders’ visionary decisions in this matter.  We’re proud of what this company is doing.”

2.     What are the attitudes / perspectives on diversity @ TI that created the opportunity for the religious initiatives to move beyond “a place at the table” to being fully integrated, respected, and mutually supportive components of TI’s Diversity Network?

“Same – focus on “full engagement” of all employees, coupled with a growing realization at TI that, for many TIers, their religious convictions, more than any other defining characteristic, define their core identity.  Thus, if a company appeared to say that one’s faith is “off limits” in the workplace, it would tend to effectively de-couple many TIers’ main life passion from their work.  Our management concluded that it would be more productive to opt instead for an inclusive environment, one that welcomes one’s faith as a relevant and positive contributor to one’s work. I believe that, together with other initiatives, we have been able to demonstrate the fact that, for many, faith is a highly relevant factor in work performance. “

3 .      Is there a story or event that you might like to share that is especially meaningful to you in this work of diversity @ TI ?

“Over time, through joint projects, panel discussions and dialogue, I believe we have overcome initial fears expressed by certain groups at TI whose focus is non-religious, that promoting a distinctly Christian initiative would lead to intolerance and even violence against their members.  To me, it’s stirring to see walls of mutual distrust across religious and cultural differences beginning to come down.   More importantly, in many cases the walls of cultural and religious separation have been replaced with increasing mutual respect and even love.   Such improved relationships do not entail that any group compromise its core principles, even when they fundamentally conflict.  Rather, they emerge out of a deeper understanding of one another, including applicable differences and commonalities, coupled with an acknowledgement that in matters of faith, each individual must decide for herself/himself.  Examples of such relational improvements are too many to list.  They include projects with people of other faiths and other belief systems.”

4 .      Any other ideas / comments you might like to share.

“I would submit that a culture that ignores faith in the workplace would be counterproductive.  “Benign neglect” of faith in the workplace – while stressing other elements of identity that are important to people – is likely to be viewed by many as a confirmation of conspiracy theories, giving rise to greater distrust and disengagement among “believers” of all kinds.  Deep trust and breakthrough team performance is far more likely to emerge from a culture that promotes dialogue and exchange on religious heritage and belief, rather than one that seeks to impose an awkward silence on the subject.

Large multinational companies like TI  have a fabulous opportunity – perhaps greater than that of entire nations – to positively impact the course of human history.  The relationships of mutual trust that we forge at work with people who are “not like us” carry great promise for future generations.   Meaningful trust is stifled in an environment where believers’ core identities are off-limits for discussion.”

Siraj Akthar Comments:

1. What are the attitudes / perspectives on diversity @ TI that created the opportunity for the religious initiatives to be formed in the first place ?

Kent has covered this in his response by addressing TIs commitment to ‘full engagement’, the idea that we need to do whatever it takes to ensure that our employees give a 100% to TI. Then what was needed was to figure out what can be done to ensure that this ‘full engagement’ can be accomplished. Keep in mind that the answer to this problem is different for different employees. I will answer this question with Muslim employees specifically in mind. After 911 everything changed. To be a Muslim living in America became very difficult. This made the work environment very challenging thereby preventing Muslim employees from fully engaging themselves at work. It was in this light that MEI was born. All of sudden having a Muslim affinity group (we call them diversity initiatives) wasn’t just some exotic concept, it was a necessity. Now more than ever Muslim employees had to explain what Islam really is and what we stand for. We needed to make our co-workers aware of our faith and our practices and remove the prevalent stereotypes so as to ensure full engagement on all sides.

2. What are the attitudes / perspectives on diversity @ TI that created the opportunity for the religious initiatives to move beyond “a place at the table” to being fully integrated, respected, and mutually supportive components of TI’s Diversity Network?

“One of the reasons we quickly became accepted in the larger TI population centers around the TI diversity network (TIDN) and the opportunity it provided us to conduct our activities. When we stood up, we knew we had the backing of all of TIDN For no matter how different our diverse causes are, we share the common mission of full engagement. We all have a story of feeling like a minority group. There is a sense of empathy, a sense of understanding. “

3. Any other ideas / comments you might like to share.

“I believe one of the reasons for our success (company wide) has to do with the fact that this vision is shared by our highest management. They in turn have provided us the opportunity to go forward.

In other companies it is the employees trying to accomplish this, while the senior management may see things very differently. Perhaps the key reason for this is that senior management may believe that having such affinity groups will cause polarization which will have a negative effect on full engagement. This I would argue is just a perception, without any facts. Our experience at TI is the opposite.

In the global environment in which we function, our employees are already heavily exposed to diversity. We realize that only by working with diversity will we be able to increase our global productivity and market share. This idea is clearly present when dealing with faith based diversity initiatives. Further in the short time that faith based initiatives have been around at TI, we have clearly demonstrated the fact that there is no polarization. Quite the contrary, we can work together. To cite some examples, MEI and CVI (Christian Values Initiative) have had three joint events–one a joint presentation on our respective faiths and the second two a Mosque and a Church visit. We clearly recognize our differences, no one will compromise his or her faith, at the same time we have furthered the respect for each other. “

Author comments:

I do whole-heartedly agree that this is a wonderful and important model for a way forward in our difficult times when groups tend to polarize and stereotype.   In a deep way, the work of diversity @ TI calls us to the clearer truth of our shared humanity – both in business and our larger lives.

Thanking you for your time and reflections.