Convivencia Conseil: Building Coexistence in the French Private Sector

“Convivencia Conseil” is the professional consulting branch of “Coexister,” a nonpartisan and non-denominational French youth movement. Coexister has been advocating for “active coexistence” through peer education aimed at 15-35 year olds since 2009. Young people from all walks of faith, non-faith, and spiritual backgrounds are members. Youth are both the fuel and the engine of the movement; providing opportunities for those who want to act now and not wait until they are adults to take action.

In 2017, the consulting branch of Coexister helped a French multinational oil and gas company, Total Group, produce a practical guide for employees to address religious issues in the workplace.

Convinced that “it is easier to accept differences when we understand them”, the group provided basic information on different faiths, as well as practical answers to frequently asked questions by employees. The report also highlighted scenarios from its branches in various countries to “demonstrate that it is possible to find solutions suitable for local contexts through dialogue and listening to each other”.

Total has addressed the matter by creating a cross-disciplinary work group and by consulting with a large number of in-house and external experts.  Convivencia Conseil was one of them. Victor Grezes, its CEO, and co-writer of the practical guide, salutes this Total initiative. “This document is one of a kind. A few companies recently published framework but nothing like this one.”

If this guide, which follows the heels of the articulation of group values, is so special, it’s mainly because of its worldwide approach. Total is indeed an international entity with a presence in 130 countries. But in the French context, a guide “to encourage tolerance for the beliefs of all within a framework of respect for differences” could also set an example in matters of diversity.

“For 20 years now, French companies have been taking in consideration diversity as a source of wealth. Many policies has been implemented to guarantee equality. 5 major diverse identities  are now highlighted: age, sex, disability, origin, sexual orientation”, says Victor Grezes. “Religious diversity is less taken in consideration, even though it is at the heart of transformations in contemporary societies.”

At work, religion is often perceived as insinuating. In France, according to a recent study led by Randstadt - Observatoire du Fait Religieux en Entreprise, one out of two managers interacts with matters revolving religion, and one out of four  managers sees religion as an obstacle. Victor Grezes partly explains this notion by the misunderstanding of French secularism, “la Laïcité.”

“According to the French law, only people working for the administration need to follow the principles of «Laïcité», and therefore be strictly neutral,” continues Grezes, “ but the values that follow on from it are subjected to interpretation.”

This is because the political and religious contexts differ so much from one country to the other. In some cases, the manoeuvring margin of Total's managers may be quite low compared with local authorities. Total therefore decided to give priority to dialogue, provided that this does not affect safety conditions and that employees who are not concerned by certain measures of reasonable accommodation do not feel wronged.

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