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Barriers at work for young Muslims – when will change come?

Kiran and Mariam discuss the The Social Mobility Commission’s report on young Muslims in the work force, whilst welcoming the report they ask what needs to be done to effect real change

Kiran Daurka (pictured) is a partner in the Employment team at Leigh Day. She has particular expertise in discrimination and equality cases.

Miriam Otaiku left Leigh Day, where she had been working with the employment team, in September 2017 to do a Masters degree in Human Rights Conflict and Justice at SOAS, University of London.
The Social Mobility Commission’s report on young Muslims is welcomed as it reiterates the importance of improving the social mobility of Muslims in the work force. The report does not, however, detail much that has not already been highlighted by the Muslim community and by similar reports and researches in recent years. This begs the question, when will change come?

The Broken Social Mobility Promise

The Social Mobility Commission’s report concluded that there was a ‘broken social mobility promise’ as educational success did not translate into good labour market outcomes for young Muslims. Despite impressive results by young Muslims in higher education, the report identifies that young Muslims struggle to break through within the professional sector.

According to the study, 19.8% of Muslims aged 16-74 were in full- time employment, compared with 34.9% of the overall population.

One common thread was that many Muslims feel they have to work ‘ten times harder’ than their white counterparts due to cultural differences and discrimination. There have also been instances where applicants have felt the need to “whiten” their names by dropping ethnic names or activities that could be associated with being from an ethnic minority.

This finding was also highlighted by the experiences shared by Muslims as part of the research conducted by the Social Mobility Commission. One woman in Liverpool said her father had suggested changing her name to help get a job.

Furthermore, once in work, young Muslims feel out of place due to racism, discrimination and lack of cultural awareness. In turn, this affects career development and progression.

Muslim Women- A Different Dilemma

The barriers faced by Muslim women are arguably more than those faced by Muslim men. The Social Mobility Commission’s research found that 18% of Muslim women aged 16 to 74 were recorded as “looking after home and family”, compared with 6% of the overall female population.

It is noted that this reality is a result of a combination of factors, namely, cultural barriers within Muslim communities coupled with institutional discrimination in the education system and labour market. Young Muslim women, particularly Muslim women wearing headscarves, face the challenge of maintaining their identity.

As a visibly Muslim woman, Mariam has had first-hand experience of the struggle of deciding whether to hide her Muslim identity in order to fit-in to the traditional working environment. The thought of having to make such a drastic decision may be enough to deter many Muslim women from making certain career choices.

For example, female professionals are often expected to conform to a certain dress code, namely, a typical skirt suit or shift dress. The expectation for female professionals to adopt this style of dressing creates barriers for Muslim women who wear the headscarf and traditional Muslim religious dressing.

Change Starts Now

There are many steps employers can take in order to increase diversity in the work place and combat unconscious bias. The Social Mobility Commission report makes several key recommendations.

Business bodies are encouraged to promote greater awareness and take-up good unconscious bias, diversity, religious literacy and cultural competence training by employers. “Name-blind” recruitment by employers is also a recommendation that comes up regularly as a means to improve recruitment processes. It is important that employers actively review and improve their processes.

Having benefitted from a scheme by the Social Mobility Foundation which seeks to help graduates from BAME and low income backgrounds to gain employment in professional sectors, Mariam would also suggest that more companies can commit to social mobility by working with local councils and schools to establish programmes and schemes which open up work experience opportunities and internships to young Muslims.

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