Islamophobia: why Adnan doesn’t get a job callback but Aidan does

You can imagine her surprise when the young lawyer was mistakenly copied into an email which revealed she hadn’t got a job because of her parents’ religion.

Well, she might have been surprised, but as a Muslim, such instances of discrimination are hardly uncommon.

In fact, the Islamophobia Register has collected 280 reports in the past 12 months of people being abused, discriminated against, spat on and marginalised in Australia because of their Muslim heritage.

The president of the Islamophobia Register, Mariam Veiszadeh, says the young graduate told her how the job interview at the boutique law firm had appeared to go swimmingly until, at the end, the manager asked where her surname came from.

When the young woman (who does not wear a hijab) said it was Lebanese, she was asked if her family was Christian or Muslim.

She decided to answer honestly, says Veiszadeh. The interviewer would not have been able to tell but she explained that her parents were Muslims.

“She said his attitude seemed to change and he said he needed to talk to another manager and he would get back to her,” says Veiszadeh. “She walked away, feeling sick in the guts.”

Then she was copied in on an email in which the recruiter explained to another why he had chosen another applicant. He wrote: “I found out she was Muslim and I decided to go with the other woman instead.”

Of course, with her legal training, the lawyer could have sued the firm for unlawful discrimination. But as someone starting out on her career, it would have been a risky move.

Speaking at a Diversity Council Australia event , Veiszadeh, herself a lawyer, says she has been trying to persuade her friends to share their stories publicly. “They won’t. This is their livelihood. Do you want to be branded as the person who launched the complaint about religious discrimination?”

The hiring process is riddled with bias, as recruiters and hiring managers tend to choose people with whom they feel comfortable – people who look, talk and think like them. So it is little wonder that people of non-Anglo backgrounds have to submit 64% more résumés to get a callback for an interview.

People with a Muslim background are, on average, slightly more highly educated than the average Australian. But employment of Australian Muslims, in comparison with the general population, is below average and they tend to be over-represented in jobs regarded as low-status.

“Higher education rates don’t translate into jobs,” Veiszadeh explains. Muslim men have a 43% high school year 12 completion rate, compared with 38% of the general population. They also have a 16.7% university qualification rate, as opposed to 15.2%.

“I’m not saying Islamophobia is the only causative factor, but surely it plays a part,” she says.

In another case reported to Veiszadeh, a senior person within the police force has complained about being treated with mistrust and being given the impression he is “too close to the crooks” to be promoted any further.

“Several times he had money planted in his car to see whether he would steal it. On one occasion, someone unknown to him came and handed him a Hungry Jacks paper bag with money in it. A random person. He is convinced that it is because they are trying to see what he is like. He is being tested.

“Irrespective of what your profession is, why on earth do you have to jump so many hurdles to prove that you are competent and that you are a human being?”

Robyn Whittaker, the head of people for law firm Gilbert + Tobin, says the time for implicit and quiet support for people of Muslim backgrounds is over. “It has to be explicit and overt.”

“You think of what is going on in the world today, the appalling generalisations and expressions of language I never thought I would hear in my lifetime, or see it,” she says.

Others are also encouraging business and government to step up. Australia’s most prominent Muslim business leader, Ahmed Fahour, said last year that young Muslims should be employed on traineeships as a way of countering extremism. Fahour lauded work as the “best means of social inclusion” for young people.

Some employers are taking steps in the right direction. The federal government is helping to fund 10 traineeships for young Muslims to work across the AFL industry. One trainee will be employed by AFL SportsReady, but will work on-site with AFL Queensland in Yeronga and Inala. This year Medibank hosted a lunch for Eid to “celebrate and raise awareness of cultural diversity both in the workplace and the community”.

And Optus’s social media team have had a running campaign against bigotry on its Facebook page. After the telco ran advertising in an Arabic language in Sydney’s south-west in 2015, their staff received death threats, prompting the company to take down the ads. But their response to the derogatory commentary on social media was impressive, with “Optus Dan” calling out the hatred and instead pointing to the positivity of multiculturalism.

The Diversity Council Australia is calling for more employers to play an active role in ensuring their workplaces are inclusive for Muslims. Lisa Annese, the Diversity Council’s chief executive, says inclusiveness brings clear business benefits, such as improved job and team performance and a higher return on income and productivity.

“We need to speak out against racism and xenophobia when we hear and see it and employers should have zero tolerance for discrimination and harassment at work.”

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