Prejudice against Muslim job candidates 'remains rife'

7 Feb 2017 By Marianne Calnan

Negative perceptions blighting their chances of employment, with some asked to change their names

Prejudice against Muslims in the workplace has increased dramatically in recent years, with job applicants overlooked and employees requested to change their names to something more English-sounding, experts have claimed.

Barrister Nabila Mallick believes there is a perception that Muslim employees are disloyal or political, and that their appearance can lead people to assume they have fundamentalist beliefs. “This has lead to a significant number of Muslim employees being discriminated against,” she said.

Mallick, who has represented Muslims taking action against employers on the grounds of discrimination, said prejudice in the job market had escalated considerably in the past 15 years and is prone to fluctuation depending on world events, such as President Donald Trump's executive order banning migrants and refugees from several Muslim-majority countries from the US.

The issue was highlighted in an experiment for the BBC Inside Out programme – broadcast last night (6 February) – which tested two British candidates’ success at being offered a job interview. Almost identical applications were sent to 100 recruiters, with the only difference being that one came from Adam and one from Mohamed. Adam was offered 12 interviews and four further enquires from headhunters, while Mohamed was offered just four interviews and two headhunter enquiries.

Although this experiment was based on a very small sample, the results are similar to those of larger research projects. For example, the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship at the University of Bristol recently revealed that Muslim men are 76 per cent less likely to be employed than their white Christian counterparts.

Professor Binna Kandola OBE, a senior partner at Pearn Kandola, said the “shocking and unsettling” results of the BBC documentary demonstrated that the issue needed to be urgently dealt with. He said: “We need to start addressing unconscious bias in the workplace, especially the recruitment process. When employers are not held accountable for their decisions, or when there is little or no transparency around hiring processes, the likelihood of discrimination increases. We must work towards delivering hiring practices that protect people from these inherent biases – as they are often based on factors that lie far out of the candidate’s control.”

However, the problems don’t stop once the candidate has been accepted for a role. There were several examples of people with Muslim-sounding names being ordered to change them to something more British-sounding.

Professor Tariq Modood, professor of sociology, politics and public policy at the University of Bristol – who oversaw the BBC experiment – was once requested to change his name to Terry Miles. He explained that he had one job as a student in which his employer, having looked at his name, said: ‘That won’t do.’ “I was very unhappy to do so,” said Modood.

While in the programme Yogesh Khrishna Davé, director for quality at a Slough-based pharmaceutical company, explained that it had taken him decades to reach this senior role, which he suspected was down to his name. With this in mind, he conducted his own experiment by sending his CV to an employer twice, one with his real name and the other with John Smith. He said: “John Smith got the interview. I got rejected for the interview.”

Jonny Gifford, organisational behaviour adviser at the CIPD, believes name-blind recruitment is a “really obvious thing for all employers to be doing where possible. It's clear it makes a difference to the numbers of people from minority groups, in particular for ethnic minorities, who get a chance of getting an interview. It's also really easy to implement. There's no real reason to not be doing this.”

In 2015, prime minister David Cameron announced that name-blind applications would be used for graduate, apprentice-level and some other applications for organisations including the civil service, BBC, NHS, local government, KPMG and HSBC.

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