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Islamophobia in the workplace

Posted on 1st November 2018

November is Islamophobia Awareness Month. Whilst this national campaign has reached a high level of engagement in schools and universities, many employers are unaware of it, and a significant number of the general public remain unfamiliar with the term ‘Islamophobia’.

In 1997 an independent race equality think tank, then known as The Runnymede Trust, published a report entitled ‘Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All’. This report was credited with coining the term ‘Islamophobia’.

Broadly speaking, Islamophobia is a dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims.

Islamophobia awareness month was launched in 2012 in order to raise awareness about Islam and Muslims, debunk myths and challenge stereotypes – ultimately the focus is to encourage community cohesion. There is also an acknowledgement that there has been a significant increase in hate crimes towards Muslims in the UK and throughout Europe.

Hate crimes have increased nationally – with a 65% rise in religious hate crimes since 2016.

The need for this campaign is underlined also by the findings of numerous reports, including the Social Mobility Commission’s 2017 report, which suggests that young British Muslims are unable to reach their full potential at work, due to discrimination and a lack of cultural awareness in the workplace.

Similar concerns had been identified in 2016, in a report by the Women and Equalities Select Committee. The Committee found that Muslim women face considerable inequalities, both in securing work and once in work. The Committee made a number of recommendations to tackle disadvantage, including directly addressing workplace Islamophobia.

Despite the prevalence of discrimination in the workplace, legal protection against religious discrimination already exists and is contained in the Equality Act 2010. Below are some tips for employers to, not only protect against the risk of discrimination claims, but also to move towards making equality and diversity a reality in the workplace.

Train Staff to Recognise Discrimination

Do not assume that your staff have a good understanding of what type of ‘banter’ is inappropriate or offensive. It is not a defence to a discrimination claim to say that offence was not intended – something we often find employers claiming with misplaced confidence.

It is your responsibility, as the employer, to ensure that your staff are aware of their obligations under the Equality Act. This can be addressed with discrimination awareness training.

It’s also worth considering that employers can be held liable for the conduct of their staff and if discrimination is found to have taken place, uncapped compensation can be awarded.

Addressing the Recruitment Problem

Training staff is an important step in tackling discrimination in recruitment and retention,

One way in which the impact of bias in recruitment can be reduced
is to train staff on unconscious bias. This is also a relevant factor when promoting existing staff.

In my view this has to be accompanied with practical steps, such as, ensuring diversity amongst those involved in the shortlisting, interview and promotion process.

Consider whether your organisation projects a diverse image. Lack of diversity on your website and in your corporate literature can risk creating an unwelcoming impression. It can also be used as anecdotal evidence, in a legal claim, by an unsuccessful applicant.

Ensure your Polices are Clear

Your policies on equality of opportunity and anti-discrimination should clear, regularly reinforced and disseminated to the entire workforce from the top down.

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