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Religious expression at work refers to “a behavior in the workspace that conveys a reference to an instituted religion, its rites and its norms” (Honoré, 2016, p. 183). The individualization of Human Resources Management (Gaillard, 2019), the appearance of the concept of non-discrimination linked to religion in the French Labor Code (2001), and the visible practice of sometimes high-ranking Muslim employees (Benaïssa, 2019) have contributed to making religion at work problematic in a secularized context (Mahmoudi, 2019; Mitroff & Denton, 1999; Hicks, 2003). Honoré (2018) moreover distinguishes transgressive expressions—those that challenge the organization of work—from non-transgressive ones.
Managing religious expression is part of the diversity management framework (Galindo & Zannad, 2014; Volia et al., 2019) that has evolved into inclusive leadership. It is based on bringing individuals together around the greatest common denominator, beyond diversity (Bouzar & Denies, 2014). According to Barth (2018, p. 51):
Inclusive companies look at the project, they are blind to differences, not out of contempt but because they take them for granted and don’t need to dwell on them. In inclusion, diversity no longer needs be defended. It is a fact of life.
However, achieving equal treatment for people with disabilities or between women and men paradoxically requires maintaining numerical indicators (Barth, 2018, p. 52).
Beyond publicly stated intentions, organizations are therefore sometimes faced with a paradox between individualization and inclusion…


The management of religious expression has been a growing topic in French literature since the 2010s. The 2021 edition of the OFRE & Institut Montaigne’s annual survey identifies the visible wearing of a religious symbol as one of the most frequently reported expressions of religious affiliation in the workplace, confirming the trend of previous studies. In recent years, several cases have been highly publicized in France that systematically highlight situations related to wearing hijab, like in the retail chains Etam and Décathlon in 2019. Overall, intervention regarding religion is particularly delicate for managers, especially in cases of conflict with an employee (OFRE & Institut Montaigne, 2021). More and more companies are therefore offering their front-line managers support systems for managing religious issues. They formalize the organization’s position on religion, and its approach to diversity. Front-line managers find themselves at a crossroads between expectations on both sides. They are both guarantors of the company’s policy, and the first point of call for employees’ demands. Our study therefore questions the role tensions that these managers may experience when faced with the management of employees’ religious practices, through the example of wearing hijab. A three-year participant observation in a large French telecommunications company allowed us to analyze its religious management system and to conduct 66 semi-structured interviews, including 41 with managers.

  • religious expression management
  • inclusion
  • role tensions
  • front-line manager
  • multinational

Gestion du fait religieux et injonctions d’inclusion : une source de tensions de rôle pour les managers de proximité ? Étude de la question du port du voile au sein d’une grande entreprise française de télécommunications

La gestion du fait religieux est un sujet montant dans la littérature française depuis les années 2010. Parmi les faits religieux au travail les plus recensés, l’édition 2021 de l’enquête annuelle de l’Institut Montaigne désigne le port visible d’un signe religieux, confirmant la tendance des études précédentes. Ces dernières années, plusieurs affaires médiatisées en France font écho à cet état de fait. Elles mettent systématiquement en exergue des situations liées au port du voile islamique : comme Etam et Décathlon en 2019. Globalement une intervention sur le sujet religieux est plus délicate que sur d’autres pour les managers, notamment en cas de conflit avec un salarié (Institut Montaigne, 2021). Les entreprises sont alors de plus en plus nombreuses à proposer à leurs managers de proximité des dispositifs d’aide à la gestion du fait religieux. Ils officialisent la posture de l’organisation sur le fait religieux, et son approche de la diversité. Les managers de proximité se retrouvent en effet au carrefour des attentes de plusieurs émetteurs. Ils sont à la fois garants de la politique de l’entreprise et premier relai des revendications des salariés. Notre étude questionne donc les tensions de rôle que ces managers peuvent ressentir face à la gestion des pratiques religieuses des salariés, ce à travers le cas du port du voile. Une observation participante de trois ans au sein d’une grande entreprise française de télécommunications, nous a permis d’analyser son dispositif de gestion du fait religieux et de mener 66 entretiens semi-directifs, dont 41 auprès de managers.

  • gestion du fait religieux
  • inclusion
  • tensions de rôle
  • manager de proximité
  • multinationale
  1. 1 - Introduction
    1. 1.1 - From diversity management to inclusive leadership: Tension around religion?
    2. 1.2 - The management of religious expression: A focus on wearing hijab
    3. 1.3 - Front-line managers subject to role
  2. 2 - Theoretical framework: role theory (Katz & Kahn, 1966, 1978)
    1. 2.1 - Role tensions
    2. 2.2 - Antecedents and consequences of role tensions
    3. 2.3 - Tensions in the role of front-line managers: What about managing religious issues?
  3. 3 - Methodology
  4. 4 - Results and discussion
    1. 4.1 - Inclusive and accommodation-based management prescribed to manage hijab wearing
      1. 4.1.1 - Freedom granted to employees of all faiths, subject to compliance with the criteria of the defender of rights
      2. 4.1.2 - Three key principles for attaining the accommodation position and inclusive message
    2. 4.2 - Managing the wearing of hijab: A source of role tension conflict for managers, closely linked to their perception of the management system
      1. 4.2.1 - Managing the wearing of hijab: Primarily a source of perceived intersender conflict
      2. 4.2.2 - The company: A sender perceived as particularly contradictory
      3. 4.2.3 - Prescriptions perceived as ambiguous: An antecedent of the contradictions perceived in the company’s discourse
      4. 4.2.4 - Person-role conflict as a consequence of perceived conflicts, ambiguities and overload
      5. 4.2.5 - Interpersonal characteristics that cause tension and dysfunctional consequences
  5. 5 - Discussion
    1. 5.1 - Towards a new frontier between transgressive and non-transgressive expressions?
    2. 5.2 - A difficult reconciliation between inclusive discourse and the authorization of wearing hijab
    3. 5.3 - A management system that creates role tensions
  6. 6 - Conclusion
    1. 6.1 - Managerial implications
    2. 6.2 - Contributions, limitations and avenues for research
Jean-Christophe Volia
Jean-Christophe VOLIA is a lecturer in Human Resources at the UCO of Angers, and a member of the EGEI research team at the UCO and CEDAG (EA1516). His research focuses on diversity management and human resources management, both at the strategic and operational levels of private and public organizations. On December 18, 2020, he defended a thesis entitled “Management of religious fact and role tensions of front-line managers: a research-intervention within a large French telecommunications company” under the direction of Professors Isabelle Barth and Martine Brasseur. The doctorate was part of the CIFRE thesis-company partnership program in conjunction with the Diversity and Inclusion Department of Orange. The research investigated the conditions necessary for the effectiveness of a religious management system and highlighted the role of adult education.
MCF, UCO of Angers, EGEI research team, CEDAG (EA1516)
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