Religious Diversity and the European Workplace location:KU Leuven date:13 January 2011
This research introduces an anthropological perspective in the debate on religious identity and the workplace. In particular, it examines the relationship between Jewish identity and practices and the workplace in Belgium, with a focus on gender issues. Thanks to in-depth interviews with a number of Jewish women in Brussels about their daily experiences in the workplace and extensive field work in this community, valuable and generally difficult to access data regarding Jewish women’s workplace participation, perceptions, and experiences has been collected and analyzed. There is a complex relationship between Jewish identity, practices and the perception of the respondents as it relates to the workplace and their own position.
Perceived hostility towards Israel and the Jewry is a recurrent issue amongst the respondents. As Judaism is often connected to the State of Israel and the current political climate, individual Jewish women are sometimes confronted with unpleasant or negative comments or experiences in the workplace. Besides forming a strong deterrent for many of the respondents to participate in the mainstream workforce, this puts a lot of pressure on those women working for non-Jewish organizations.
To a certain extent, Jewish practices are adapted, modified and negotiated by the working Jewish women to meet the demands of dominant norms in the modern Belgian workplace. In addition, the ‘coping mechanisms’ that are applied by the respondents are frequently gender-specific and family-motivated.