How To Overcome Islamophobia In Your Workplace

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Within the last decade, there has been mounting evidence of the rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Western societies. Following the events of September 11, 2001 in the United States, there has been a surge of bias and discrimination against Muslims and Arabs, and anyone perceived to be Muslim or Arab. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of protected classes which include race, religion, national origin, color, gender, age and disability.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported that in the aftermath of September 11, discrimination against those who identify as Muslim, Sikh, Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian, or those perceived as a member of these groups, has risen. The EEOC indicates that this type of discrimination is typically related to national origin, religion or both. Under national origin discrimination guidelines, an employer cannot discriminate against an individual based on the individual’s place of birth or accent, and English-only rules are illegal unless there it is a business necessity. Harassment and discrimination based on appearance (e.g. an employer refusing to allow an employee to wear their traditional native attire or religious headgear) are also illegal. In a highly-publicized case, Abercrombie & Fitch was liable for religious discrimination after firing a Muslim employee for wearing her hijab. In a separate case, a Muslim job applicant who refused to shake the hand of a male boss won a discrimination case in Sweden; the job applicant won on religious grounds and a court ordered the company to compensate her. In the EEOC versus AutoZone, Inc. case, a Sikh employee was denied a religious accommodation and was harassed by coworkers, who often referred to him as “Bin Laden,” and made other inflammatory and terrorist jokes about him. The case was settled for $75,000, AutoZone had to adopt a new policy that specifically addresses religious discrimination and human resource employees and managers had to be retrained. Lastly, in a recent discrimination case, a Colorado landlord who refused to sublease her property to a Muslim father and son was ordered to pay a $675,000 settlement to the father and son. There are a number of similar cases that have been reported to the EEOC. Following Executive Order 13769, also known as the Muslim ban instituted by the Trump administration, anti-Muslim tensions in the United States have gotten worse.

Discrimination and bias against Muslims are apparent in many different aspects of the workplace. A Carnegie Mellon study found that Muslim job candidates experienced more discrimination than Christian job candidates during the hiring process. For Muslim job candidates, there was a 13% lower callback rate compared to Christian job candidates. While it’s very difficult to control what hiring managers and recruiters do in their own time, companies may want to institute policies that prohibit hiring managers and recruiters from searching candidates on social networking sites like LinkedIn, prior to meeting them. This may lower the unconscious bias that can occur when viewing a candidate’s profile during the hiring process. There is also a documented name bias, and one study found that candidates with English-sounding names were three times as likely to be offered an interview than candidates with Muslim-sounding names. Implementing a blind resume system can remedy these implicit bias issues that permeate the selection process. Stripping qualified candidate resumes of names, addresses, dates and other identifying information can be an effective way to make the hiring process more equitable. Another good faith gesture to demonstrate your company’s commitment to diversity is putting your money where your mouth is. In 2017, ride-sharing company Lyft donated $1 million dollars to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in response to Trump’s Muslim ban. If your organization is adamant about creating a more equitable workplace and making positive changes in the world, pouring resources into other organizations that are committed to diversity and inclusion is a great way to demonstrate to employees your commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Education is also critical to reducing Islamophobia. Much of the anti-Muslim sentiments stem from the public’s misinformation and misunderstanding of the religion. One study found that individuals with Islamophobic views were least likely to actually know a Muslim person. This reinforces the contact hypothesis, which states that interactions between a majority and minority group are an effective way to reduce prejudice. Bringing people into the organization to educate employees about Islam, as well as other associated religions, can be impactful. There is, for example, a common misconception that Sikhs are Muslim; the turbans worn by Sikh men are often associated with Muslim headwear. Bringing in speakers and having open forums where employees can candidly ask questions and learn more about different faiths can reduce the misconceptions that are perpetuated.

As of 2015, there were an estimated 1.8 billion Muslims around the world. Islam is the fastest-growing major religion and after Christianity, Islam is the second-largest religion. There are an estimated 3.45 million Muslims in the United States and that number continues to grow. The importance of creating methods for all employees to feel valued and respected cannot be overstated. With the mounting tensions and divisiveness that is apparent in our country, it is important for companies to start implementing these and other strategies in order to create a culture of inclusion that every employee craves.

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