A report by the Social Mobility Commission, the ‘Ethnicity, Gender and Social Mobility’ report, has shown that Asian Muslim women, despite doing well in school, become socially immobile. This is due to many factors, including discrimination they face when looking for employment. The chairman of the commission, Alan Milburn, stated that the promise of social mobility is ‘being broken’.
The statistics are shocking when considering that ethnic minorities are far more likely to pursue higher education than White British children, with five in 10 Bangladeshi children going to university compared to just 1 in 10 white British children. Reports have found that British Muslim women have strong positive attitudes towards work, and that whilst they are more likely than White British women to take time out of employment after having children, they tend to have the overwhelming support of their families in finding work afterwards. The Young Foundation found that 93% of Muslim women who are not in work want to be, and feel supported by their families in looking for it. This disproves tabloid claims that Muslim women are unwilling to travel for work, or work in mixed-gender environments. Only 15% of Muslim women in the study said that they sought work in ‘women-only’ spaces, whilst 93% of British Muslim women stated that they would commute for up to an hour. So why are unemployment rates for British Muslim women still so high?
Bangladeshi and Pakistani women are the lowest earners out of all black and ethnic minority groups, having very little chance to gain professional occupations. When compared to male Bangladeshi graduates, despite performing better in education they are still less likely to gain a professional role. Culture is often cited as the central reason behind Muslim women’s perceived “failure” to integrate fully and economically, into British society.
While it is true that some British Muslim women face pressures from their family or community to stay at home, particularly after having children early - three times as many Muslim women as White British women are economically inactive because they are looking after the home – there are many other barriers that Muslim women face. These include discrimination due to religion and gender, and Muslim women who wear the hijab experience an even higher level of discrimination due to their outward display of religious beliefs
Islamophobia in the workplace has been well-documented. Evidence from France has discovered that practicing Muslims had a 4.7% chance of being called back for an interview, compared to 17.9% for their Catholic counterparts. In the UK, the Runnymede Trust has found that 25% of unemployment in ethnic minority groups can be accounted for by employer discrimination.
Muslim women face additional gendered barriers, and ‘cultural’ arguments seep into this discrimination. 1 in 8 Pakistani women in the UK have been asked about marriage and family aspirations in job interviews, as opposed to only 1 in 30 non-Muslim women, and they may also face evidence of “name discrimination”. Many women have “whitened” job applications, using non-Muslim names on forms. Some have even chosen to stop wearing the hijab and niqab – 18% of Muslim women in work have stated that this helped them to find employment. If Asian Muslim women who are educated struggle in the labour market, it is even harder for barriers BAMER who don’t have qualifications or have recently migrated to the UK and might have limited English.
The report offered a number of recommendations, including that businesses need to specifically support Asian Muslim women to progress in their careers. This is something that JAN Trust has long recognised to be a priority. At JAN Trust, we provide the education for women to become aware of when they are experiencing discrimination and how to overcome it, with the aim of empowering themselves and be socially mobile in the job market.
JAN Trust empowers women to attain and achieve more, despite the fear of discrimination, through a variety of measures: from workshops that provide information about opening businesses to building confidence and self-esteem. Milburn stated that ‘Britain is a long way from having a level playing field of opportunity for all regardless of gender, ethnicity or background’.
Visit our website www.jantrust.org to learn more about the work we do empowering women to play a vital role in British society.