Empowered Employment: Unlocking the Workplace for Muslim Women by Suriyah Bi, supported by Muslim Women Connect.

You can find the executive summary of the report below and view the pdf here.

Executive Summary

  • The research project took to explore Muslim Women’s experiences of work and career development. The project aimed to better understand potential challenges that may be prohibiting Muslim women (which could then be mitigated), and positive factors that may be assisting Muslim women’s development (which could be amplified). It is hoped that the research project facilitates positive and real social change for British Muslim women.
  • 425 women completed the survey and 50 in depth interviews were conducted.
  • Muslim women who participated in the research hailed from diverse backgrounds including diverse identity markers such as ethnicity, race, age, region, and socioeconomic status.
  • This is the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind to be conducted on Muslim women’s experiences of work and career development anywhere in the world.

Key Findings

  • Almost half of all participants’ (46.8%) household incomes were below the 2018 national average household income of £28,400 (Office for National Statistics: 2019).
  • 41.6% of participants received free school meals, while 58.4% participants stated not having been in receipt of free school meals.
  • Despite almost half of participants having been raised in households below the average household income, 48.2% of participants had completed an undergraduate degree, and a further 43% of participants had postgraduate qualifications.
  • 84.2% of British Muslim women were actively engaged in the labour market and contributing to the economy, suggesting that Muslim women are highly competent and skilled.
  • More than half of participants (53.4%) found employment within three months of completing their studies.
  • Participants were involved in a wide range of industries with 20.5% in education and teaching, 17.9% in healthcare, 9.2% in charity and voluntary services, 8.5% in administration, business and management, 8% in government and policy, 6.6% in research, and 4.7% in financial services.
  • When compared to the industries women aspired to enter whilst at secondary school, the results showed large discrepancies for industries such as journalism and media, medicine, and law.
  • While 79 participants wanted to enter the medical field in secondary school, only 1 participant entered the field as a doctor. Similarly, while 46 participants wanted to become lawyers, only 12 became lawyers upon graduating university, and while 39 participants wanted to become journalists and/or enter the media profession, only 7 entered the profession.
  • A major challenge to work and career development was a lack of confidence which 54.3% of participants selected. The second major challenge experienced was a lack of career advice with 47. 8% of participants having made this selection. The third major factor was the lack of opportunity, with 43.5% of participants making this selection.
  • Participants also selected lack of information resources (32%), family expectations (28.7%), partner expectations (5.2%), Islamophobia (17.6%), discrimination (29.6%), difficult working relations (18.8%), disability (4%), personal circumstances (19.3%), and health (12%), also as barriers.
  • 78% experienced more than one challenge; a significant finding that illustrates the sheer difficulty Muslim women experience in pursuing career and work development.
  • 47.2% of women stated they had encountered Islamophobia and discrimination as a challenge in the workplace.
  • 33.9% of participants stated that family and partner expectations were barriers to their career development.
  • Participants were asked about helpful resources. 66% participants selected mentoring and advice, 65% participants selected greater understanding/openness from employers, 47% participants selected greater understanding openness from colleagues, 27% selected targeted schemes from employers, 43% participants selected paid internships/work experience, 44% participants selected shadowing in the workplace, 70% participants selected networking opportunities, and 5% participants selected ‘other’.

Key Recommendations

  • In order to address and mitigate the negative impacts of these factors for British Muslim women, strategies to combat must be well-thought out, specific, and targeted.
  • For Muslim women Support organisations such as Muslim Women Connect: Offer streamlined mentoring services that include paid internships, shadowing in the workplace and networking sessions that focus on building networking skills, would make a significant positive impact. It is paramount that these mentoring opportunities extend to cities across the UK to ensure the ‘North/South divide’ is not being reinforced through the provision of services in London only.
  • For education providers: The research demonstrates a loss of talent between the ages of 14-22. There is an urgent need for tailored mentoring and development programs between these ages. Education providers (secondary schools, sixth forms, and universities) are urged to invest in the development of their students who identify as Muslim women by offering targeted careers advice, information on a diverse range of careers, and engaging the families of students, providing families information as to the wide variety of possible career trajectories.
  • For employers and workplaces: A major obstacle highlighted in the workplace was the alcohol culture, which dominated networking events in particular. Workplaces are urged to instill a culture where it is acceptable to network over non-alcoholic beverages. Workplaces are also encouraged to offer nuanced and tailored diversity and inclusion training to expose theirworkforce to the range of conscious and unconscious biases. Employers can also increase the accessibility of flexible working as an option for Muslim women. Employers are also urged to issue clear guidelines as to behaviours that constitute as Islamophobic, anti-Muslim, and/or racist.

Key Solutions

  • For education providers to hold careers events for Muslim women where they and their families can be informed about the diversity of career trajectories.
  • Employers and workplaces could hold networking events and meetings where soft drinks and coffees are served. If such events take place outside the workplace that they be held at coffee- shops and/or alcohol-free restaurants.
  • Employers must issue clear guidelines as to the behaviours that constitute as Islamophobic, anti- Muslim, and/or racist and to ensure that these guidelines are read by each employee. Employers must also categorise and treat such abuse as forms of ‘gross misconduct’, and take the relevant steps to address such incidents.
  • In parallel to this, employers must offer support services for employees that have been affected by Islamophobic abuse, and instill a positive and assisted culture of reporting such abuse.
  • Employers across industries and sectors are urged to adopt ‘name-blind’ application processes where names of participants are anonymised.
  • Funding must be made available from both government and non-governmental organisations to deliver tailored mentoring services on a national scale.