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Why are Muslim women struggling to get good jobs?

None of this means that racism and Islamophobia don’t exist; of course they do

There have been some recent articles about the difficulties that Muslim women face in trying to get jobs, more so than women from other backgrounds.

Commentators have put forward a range of possible reasons for this, including discrimination, Islamophobia and even the fact that some Muslim women wear the niqab (who doesn’t remember the article Boris Johnson wrote about that?).

Is that really all there is to this? Are those of us in recruitment and HR so bigoted and so bad at our jobs that we can’t see past the colour of someone’s skin or a veil covering their face? As HR professionals, are we not taught to objectively assess a candidate’s suitability for the role for which they have applied, being aware of our own prejudices in order to be less likely to react to them?

First of all, let’s not assume that all Muslim women come from Pakistan or Bangladesh. Sudan, Turkey and Nigeria also have high Muslim populations. Leaving religion aside, these countries are all culturally different. Different does not mean better or worse, it just means different. Anyone who has worked in the equality, diversity and inclusion specialisms of HR knows that forward-thinking organisations value these differences and the advantages they can bring.

Secondly, not all Muslim women (or men) are from BAME backgrounds. Most people can’t tell what religion a person is just by looking at them, unless the person is wearing something that obviously denotes their religion, such as a Kara or a Star of David.

None of this means that racism and Islamophobia don’t exist; of course they do. In fact, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee refers to Muslim women encountering problems finding work because they are women, because they are Muslim and because they are BAME. One of the reasons is that it seems many of us who are recruiting ask them more questions about their families and children than we do their white counterparts.

As HR and recruitment professionals, we must find this concerning and we must find a way to remedy the situation. According to a 2017 study, only 32% of HR managers are confident that they don’t exhibit bias when selecting new staff. Quite a shocking statistic.

What can be done?
• For starters, we could carry out what is known as Blind Recruitment, removing any identifying information from the application or CV.
• Ensure that job criteria are relevant and appropriate for the role.
• Follow structured processes, going through the same process and asking the same questions of each candidate.
• Use role-appropriate tests or assessments. We could even go one step further and make these tests ‘blind’ until the selectors have marked them.
• We could do what some police forces and government departments do, and invite community members with the necessary skills to observe our interviews.
• Perhaps difficult for small organisations, but we could reach out to under-represented communities, working with local community groups to help women to engage with recruiters.

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