Employment opportunities for Muslims in the UK Contents

5Tackling workplace discrimination

156.During this inquiry we heard significant evidence of the impact that discrimination and Islamophobia have on the lives of Muslim people. In the workplace, direct and indirect discrimination affects recruitment and in-work progression. The Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre told us that in a focus group that they held, “100% of participants had directly experienced, witnessed, or had family members whom had experienced instances of discrimination in the workplace.”148

157.Informal practices in the workplace, and a lack of cultural understanding on the part of employers and colleagues also have negative consequences for people. In this chapter we will discuss discrimination in recruitment and subsequently in the workplace, what data is available to research the subject, the remedies that the Government has put in place, and what else can be done to remove discrimination.

Impact of the rise in Islamophobia on the workplace

158.In Chapter 2 we discussed the recent rises in Islamophobic hate crime and how crime is affected by international events. The National Alliance of Women’s Organisations told us how Islamophobia was impacting on recruitment and in the workplace:

The rhetoric of Islamophobia in the UK is damaging and isolating and could contribute to the lack of implementation of proper training and understanding of equality policy and religious tolerance from the application process to within the workplace.149

Fear of discrimination and the chill factor

159.In Chapter 2 we discussed the impact of the “chill factor”, and how the perception and fear of discrimination or even hostility of colleagues was putting Muslim women off applying for certain jobs. Dr Asma Mustafa and Professor Anthony Heath argued that the perception and fear of discrimination affects the employment opportunities of all Muslim people:

This would include attitudes of concern held by Muslims regarding employment sectors such as the police force, armed forces, consultancy firms and building firms, assuming that people working in these areas are likely to have contentious views of Muslims; exude negative attitudes towards a Muslim co-worker and provide an alienating work environment.150

Discrimination in recruitment and name-blind applications

160.The Muslim Council of Britain drew our attention to research on name-blind recruitment carried out by the National Centre for Social Research for the Department for Work and Pensions151. Researchers sent similar job applications on behalf of fictitious applicants using names associated with different ethnic groups. They found that:

[ … ] an applicant who appeared to be white would send nine applications before receiving a positive response of either an invitation to an interview or an encouraging telephone call. Minority candidates with the same qualifications and experience had to send 16 applications before receiving a similar response.152

In Chapter 4, we also discussed the lack of understanding within Jobcentre Plus of the impact of name-based discrimination for Muslim people.

161.The Government have recognised that name-based discrimination takes place in recruitment and on 26 October 2015, the Prime Minister announced that name-blind recruitment would be introduced in the civil service (below SCS level) and in graduate and apprenticeship level recruitment by some public and private sector employers:

The Civil Service is today committing to introducing name-blind recruitment for all roles below Senior Civil Service (SCS) level. Other top graduate recruiters like KPMG, HSBC, Deloitte, Virgin Money, BBC, NHS, learndirect and local government are joining organisations like Teach First by committing to deliver name-blind applications for all graduate and apprenticeship level roles.153

162.Some witnesses expressed concerns that name-blind applications would only address part of the issue, and would not deal with discrimination at interview or other stages of a recruitment process. We discussed issues relating to recruitment discrimination for Muslim women in Chapter 2. The National Alliance of Women’s Organisations told us that while they welcome the introduction of name-blind recruitment, they want to see other changes to tackle unconscious bias in recruitment:

We call for changes into other parts of the recruitment process including, but not limited to, guidelines on composition of the interviewing panel to stop “unconscious bias” against potential recruits from ethnic minorities, including Muslims, and thus to ensure fair and transparent recruitment processes.154

Inconsistent employment practices

163.Some witnesses told us that there were many employers who have policies in place for dealing with discrimination and providing changes in the workplace. But it was at local management level where things fell down. The Muslim Women’s Network UK told us:

In some cases the management itself is not the issue but rather the immediate workplace environment. For example, one Muslim woman who worked for a large organisation was promoted by senior management but her immediate colleagues were unhappy and believed that she had only received the promotion because she is Muslim and the company was being political correct and/or because were scared of offending the Muslim and felt compelled to promote her. Her colleagues then made the workplace hostile for her and she found it very difficult to stay in that environment but she felt unable to do anything about it as the organisation itself had provided her with various opportunities and promoted her.155

164.Helen Barnard from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation raised the role of local line managers with us, saying they were key to providing information about training and development opportunities, and that this could vary hugely:

There was something very important about the gatekeeper role of line managers, particularly quite lowlevel line managers. They are the people who will let you know about development opportunities, if they are out there. They are the people who can connect you up. A lot of people get their careers advice from their line manager, if they are getting it from anyone. It is incredibly hit and miss as to whether you happen to get a line manager who is good, who likes you and has any interest in your development. 156

Working environment

165.We heard evidence of employers successfully accommodating the needs of Muslim employees. Aman Ali outlined his experience of working for Transport for London:

They did a fantastic job of making me feel very accommodated. As soon as I came in—I did not even have to mention it—they mentioned Friday prayer facilities and available prayer rooms. Everything was accommodated for me.157

166.However, we also heard evidence of a lack of cultural understanding by some employers. For example Muslim Women’s Network UK who highlighted an employee being given additional work to do during Ramadan:

One Muslim employee was asked to prepare and present a last minute report on a key project to the wider team; two other members of the team were equally well-versed in this project and either of the other two could have presented the report instead of the fasting employee.158

Social networking in the workplace

167.We heard mixed evidence of the impact of social networking in the workplace on Muslim employees. The Muslim Council of Britain suggested that employees who did not want to drink were being excluded and that more should be to provide inclusive networking opportunities:

When you go to the pub, relationships are being built. How do you include your workers who do not want to go to the pub? Relationship-building takes place outside that, so social networking and socialising within the organisation and getting to know employees at another level, such as with mentoring opportunities, and having those structures in place would be very helpful. 159

168.Witnesses highlighted that these issues were not unique to Muslim women; for example, they might also apply to those with caring responsibilities. However, in their 2013 Report, In-work poverty, ethnicity and workplace cultures, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that ethnic minorities in low paid jobs were particularly impacted by informal workplace practices in relation to progression.160

Evidence of discrimination

169.We heard from Muslim Women’s Network UK that attempts to see a complete picture of discrimination were being affected by a lack of available research and data:

We are concerned that the lack of research and statistics available is minimising the real prevalence of direct and indirect discrimination in the workplace across all sectors and hope that thorough research is carried out in this respect.161

They argued that without sufficient research information, employers could not adequately deal with workplace discrimination:

We feel that the only means by which employers and employer organisations will be made to address issues of discrimination against Muslims in the workplace is if there is public knowledge of what is going on and a clear message sent that this culture of discriminatory practices cannot continue.162

Remedies for resolving discrimination in the workplace

170.In this section we will explore the remedies available to employees who want to lodge cases of discrimination against their employers. How this works, and the impact action has and why people are reluctant to do so.

Resolution of discrimination cases

171.The Government’s preferred approach is for discrimination cases to be resolved locally in the workplace before they reach the grievance stage. Cases should follow Acas guidance, and require the use of Acas’ conciliation services before making an employment tribunal claim. 32% of the religion or belief discrimination tribunal cases concluded in 2014/15 involved ACAS concluded settlements.163

Role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

172.In their written evidence, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills outlined that the range of enforcement powers in discrimination cases that the equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has:

[ … ] investigating whether an unlawful act has been committed, applying for a restraining injunction, assisting an individual in court proceedings, and applying for judicial review. The EHRC was never intended to apply its formal enforcement powers to more than a small proportion of discrimination cases, and it therefore seeks to identify cases of potential strategic importance when considering formal interventions.164

Fear of taking action against employer

173.While remedies exist for employees to take action against their employer when discrimination is alleged to have taken place, we were reminded in evidence that such action is not entered into lightly by employees, because of the knock-on effects it could have on the individual concerned:

Many individuals worry about the repercussions of making a claim against their employer; such as losing their job, not being able to obtain a good reference in the future, being branded a trouble maker, being disbelieved and alienated etc.165

Conclusions and recommendations

Our key recommendations are that:

174.The Prime Minister’s championing of name-blind recruitment is a welcome step, and one that we have heard broad support for throughout this inquiry. To be fully effective this should form part of a sustained initiative which profiles those employers which have successfully implemented the policy in order to incentivise others to follow suit. The Government should monitor uptake and legislate if progress is not made within this parliament.

175.Name-blind recruitment is only one part of the solution to workplace discrimination. Both the Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission must take action to make sure that employers are aware of their legal duties and employees are empowered to challenge discrimination.

176.With strong evidence about the rise of Islamophobia within wider society, and many individual Muslims coming forward with stories of discrimination and the fear of discrimination within the workplace, we believe there is a clear need for the Department for Work and Pensions to carry out research in this area. Employers should pay particular attention to the impact of discrimination and the fear of discrimination in the workplace for Muslim women who wear cultural or religious dress. Discrimination on the ground of religion is illegal under the Equality Act and more must be done to challenge Islamophobia within the workplace as part of a wider push to challenge Islamophobia in society.

We also recommend that:

177.Employers should make sure that information is disseminated properly across all staff so that equal opportunities policies are not undermined locally.


148 Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre (MIE0012)

149 National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (MIE0033)

150 Dr Asma Mustafa (Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies) and Professor Anthony Heath, CBE, FBA (Centre for Social Investigation, Nuffield College, Oxford) (MIE0008)

151 National Centre for Social Research on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, A test for racial discrimination in recruitment practice in British cities, 2009

152 Muslim Council of Britain (MIE0022)

153 PM: Time to end discrimination and finish the fight for real equality, Prime Minister’s Office press release, 26 October 2015

154 National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (MIE0033)

155 Muslim Women’s Network UK (MIE0014)

158 Muslim Women’s Network UK (MIE0014)

160 Joseph Rowntree Foundation, In-work poverty, ethnicity and workplace cultures, 24 September 2013, accessed 13 June 2016

161 Muslim Women’s Network UK (MIE0014)

162 Ibid.

163 Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (MIE0030)

164 Ibid.

165 Muslim Women’s Network UK (MIE0014)




© Parliamentary copyright 2015

3 August 2016