In 2015, 15-year-old Shamima Begum left the UK to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria. The British born teenager made headlines overnight – with her face being sprawled across every newspaper, magazine and news outlet. The public’s opinion was divided – with phrases being thrown around such as “she’s only a child” to “she’s a terrorist”. For some, it was the fault of the government for not safeguarding the child – for others, it was an excuse to vocalise their prejudices. The topic was debated in lunch halls, shopping centres, boardrooms and around the water cooler in workspaces. Off the back of this, it was recorded that many Muslim employees felt further scrutiny in the workplace and that Muslim discrimination and Islamophobia was on the rise.
In an article written by Anushka Asthana for the Guardian in 2017, Prof Jacqueline Stevenson, of Sheffield Hallam University, states that “Muslims are being excluded, discriminated against or failed at all stages of their transition from education to employment. Taken together, these contributory factors have profound implications for social mobility.” In the same article, it was documented that Muslim men and women are failing to secure jobs that were commensurate with their skills and qualifications and that one woman was told that if she “changed her name”, she would have more of a chance of securing the role. 25-year-old Farhana Ghaffar who took part in Stevenson’s study recalled some of the prejudices she has come up against in the workplace. “It ranges from assumptions that [we are] forced to wear the headscarf to jokes and casual comments about Muslims. Every time there was a terror attack there was a feeling of a need to apologise and explain.”
One of the main barriers Muslim women face comes from the Muslim community’s attitudes towards women entering the workforce. “The wider Muslim community has to embrace aspects of corporate working life,” says Halima. “It’s important for a Muslim woman to feel that her religion isn’t a barrier to entry. So being able to partake in some socials (minus the alcohol) is important. Likewise, the workplace must make them feel comfortable. There has to be a meeting in the middle.” Other obstacles include networking with colleagues and joining in on ‘work nights out’. A study carried out by Dr Suriyah Bi, a lecturer at SOAS University showed that many Muslim employees felt excluded or deemed ‘boring’ if they didn’t take part in after-work drinks. Dr Suriyah solution to this is to “…instil a culture where it is acceptable to network over non-alcoholic beverages”. This will create a more inclusive culture within the workforce and allow members from all religious backgrounds to network and feel included.
Activities to try with your team
- In your next team meeting or all hands. Reflect on Islamic culture and religious events like Eid. Consider allowing Muslim staff members to have this religious holiday as paid time off.
- Re-framing constructive feedback through the lens of bias. Reflect on a time a Muslim candidate has passed through your recruitment pipeline – did you display cultural awareness and check your bias?
- Think about your last 1:1. Have you faced islamophobia at work? Did you have an ally you could confide in to reflect on the incident with?
New habits to make a difference
- Find Muslim exemplars within your industry
- Read a book/ novel by a Muslim author
- Listen to a podcast by a Muslim creator