Workplaces – a key chapter in improving the stories of Australian Muslims

The Sharing the Stories of Australian Muslims report, recently released by The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), made for somber reading.

It revealed that:

  • 80 per cent of Australian Muslims have experienced prejudice or discrimination 
  • One in four (23%) felt unable to speak up or act when they experienced discrimination.
  • Ultimately: members of Australian Muslim communities experience Islamophobia in both direct and indirect ways at a systemic level.

As a Muslim myself, and as someone who was consulted to give insight into the report, these stats generate mixed feelings. I suppose the fact that the report exists at all is a sort of progress.

Back when I started the Islamophobia register, there wasn’t much empirical research or data on the issue at all. We all felt Islamophobia. We sensed it. But it wasn’t quantified. And so it’s great to see the AHRC taking the issue seriously. Not so good is the fact that there are deep problems to be solved in Australia. Many of which play out around workplaces and economic participation.

Because while Australian Muslims have greater academic outcomes, they are faced with lower employment rates in comparison to all Australians. According to recent data outlined in the Australian Muslims Report, the employment rate for Australian Muslims was 32.5% in comparison to 45.7% for all Australians.

Australian Muslims are also underrepresented in managerial and leadership positions, and overrepresented in other occupational roles, which are generally associated with lower socioeconomic status.

Ultimately, Muslims with elevated levels of education and expertise do not have these achievements reflected in their jobs. Unconscious bias is rife. And if the numbers don’t get that message across, insights like this – from a fellow consultation participant – most certainly do:

“I applied for a job with two of the exact same resumés, but changed one with the name Mohamed to an Anglo-Saxon name … I got a call back and interview with Anglo name …”

Confronting as this is, the Sharing the Stories of Australian Muslims  report also presents community-based and workplace-driven solutions to these kinds of problems.

Solutions that will allow all of us to work towards a more equal and harmonious nation.

One where our Muslim brothers and sisters don’t have to change their name and sign away their dignity to get a job and participate in society.

Using DCA’s Creating Inclusive Multi-Faith Workplaces Report, here is my advice on how we can achieve those workplaces and, ultimately, that society.

Review recruitment and retention  

To tackle the gap between the academic achievements and job prosperity of Australian Muslims, recruitment and retention need to be front of mind.

As the quote above, about changing names on CVs, so brutally indicates, employers need to start interrogating whether their recruitment practices invite or exclude Muslim employees.

And beyond that, start building cultural capability to retain Muslim staff and provide them with pathways to leadership and success.

More diversity, even more inclusion & cultural competency 

This sounds simple, but too often Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) is an intention and not a practice. The way to overcome this is by making inclusion an equal or higher aspiration than simply meeting the legal requirements to accommodate people of faith at work.

Being legally compliant is an important first step, but you need to get counting; asking is the only way you will know the faith diversity of your workforce, and ultimately the need for faith-based inclusion in your organisation.

Staff may be wary, so it is very important to explain why the question is being asked and how the information will be used, as well as to stress that sharing this type of information is voluntary and confidential.

Once you know where you are, you can update your D&I policy to include faith identity.

This may translate into:

  • Considering how to make your dress codes inclusive; so that they provide flexibility to accommodate employees’ religious or cultural obligations.
  • Leave policies that allow for employees to meet cultural and religious obligations.
  • Inclusion from staff from a variety of backgrounds when planning events to ensure these, too, are inclusive.

These types of policies take inclusion from being a well-intentioned idea to a living practice.

Language: the key of the ally  

Unfortunately, faith-based stereotyping is extremely common. And in the workplace, it can lead to inaccurate ideas that people from certain faiths are not capable of taking on certain roles.

Language is a powerful tool for building inclusion (or exclusion) at work.

The way we speak to each other creates a culture in which everyone – people of all faiths and people with no religious affiliation – can feel valued, respected and one of the team. Rather than under-valued, disrespected, and out of place.

As a general rule, if someone’s faith is not relevant, then don’t mention it. If it is relevant, then discuss it respectfully.

When things become disrespectful, then the power of the bystander comes into play. Respectfully calling out bias and stereotyping, no matter how well intentioned is key. It can be challenging to confront non-inclusive language, especially when it’s coming from powerful or influential people in your organisation. But doing so can increase our confidence and promote inclusion at work for everybody.

Read more on creating inclusive multi-faith workplaces