Tackling Islamophobia and creating inclusive workplaces for Australian Muslims

News articles

As part of our Building Cultural Capability Network, DCA members attending an event yesterday at Gilbert + Tobin in Sydney (and watching a live webcast around Australia) were given first-hand insights into the harmful effects that prejudice and Islamophobia are having on Australian Muslims and what can be done to create more inclusive environments, especially at work. 

DCA’s CEO, Lisa Annese said that while research has shown that Australian Muslims tend to be well educated, they continue to be underemployed and underpaid.

“We know that Australian Muslims are experiencing discrimination in the workforce and in the wider community. We organised this event to hear about what is happening and what workplaces can do to address discriminatory prejudices or unconscious bias which may be preventing Australian Muslims from gaining employment, and then being treated with respect and accessing career opportunities at work.

“It’s DCA’s view that employers can, and should, play a more active role in ensuring their workplaces are inclusive. We need to speak out against racism and xenophobia when we hear it and see it and employers should have zero tolerance to discrimination and harassment at work. But beyond this, there are clear business benefits to be had when you create inclusive workplaces for all,” said Lisa.

Keynote speaker, Lawyer and President of the Islamophobia Register Australia, Mariam Veiszadeh, said that incidents of Islamophobia are on the rise in Australia.

“The Islamophobia Register was established in response to anecdotal evidence suggesting a rise in Islamophobia. Unfortunately it has become normalised in popular culture. The cost of it is not only just borne by Muslims but by the whole of society – the consequences, social, psychological, financial and societal – are far reaching,” said Mariam.

Deb Howcroft, Executive General Manager, Organisational Development at Commonwealth Bank said her organisation has implemented a number of initiatives to nurture cultural inclusion.

“At Commonwealth Bank, we are shaped by the wonderfully diverse individuals and communities that make up our customers and our employees. For us cultural inclusion supports our goals to deliver the best customer experience and to build a great place to work for our people. 

“We’ve set a target to increase cultural diversity of our senior leadership by 2020 so that we reflect the make-up of modern Australian society.  This target sits alongside initiatives such as cultural inclusion training and the recent inclusion of the hijab in our corporate uniform. It’s about creating a culture where everyone feels supported, valued and respected – where they can give their best, be their best, and be themselves every day,” said Deb.

Key issues:

  • Australian Muslims are well educated when compared to the general population. They are more likely to have completed Year 12 and Muslim men are more likely to have a bachelors or postgraduate degree. A larger proportion of Muslims are in full-time education compared with all Australians mainly due to their younger age structure.[i]
  • But we are not making the most of this talent. Muslim Australians, especially younger Muslims, are less likely to be employed. In addition, they are also underrepresented in high-status professional occupations and overrepresented in other occupational categories, which tend to have lower status.[ii]
  • Discrimination at work on the basis of religion is against the law under various provisions of State and Territory based Anti-discrimination Acts and Commonwealth law.[iii]
  • Inclusive environments deliver business benefits. They are associated with improved job and/or team performance, as well as higher return on income and productivity. Failure to stand up to discrimination and harassment and non-inclusive language has a serious negative effect on individuals and workplaces.[iv]

Key actions employers can take:

  • Educate decision makers and recruiters about avoiding cultural bias and the importance of valuing the skills and talents of culturally and religiously diverse candidates.
  • Educate your people on the importance of religious acceptance and avoiding stereotyping as well as discrimination and harassment on the grounds of religion or cultural background.
  • Avoid stereotyping by improving understanding of the complexity of religious identity, which encompasses those who are actively practicing as well as those who do not practice but who still identify culturally as Muslim (or Buddhist, Christian, Hindi, Jewish, Sikh etc).
  • Make efforts to accommodate employees’ or potential employees’ desire to wear religious attire, such as a Hijab. If you have a corporate uniform, provide options for these employees.
  • Encourage work socialisation that involves eating (or eating and drinking), rather than only drinking alcohol.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] A quick guide to Australian discrimination laws, Australian Human Rights Commission