Muslims at the Margins: Islamophobia and Employment | Islamic Relief Canada

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Muslims at the Margins: Islamophobia

and Employment

Islamic Relief Canada 2023

Acknowledgements

This research was made possible through the financial support of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s (CRRF) National Anti-Racism Fund. Islamic Relief Canada (IRC) would like to extend our gratitude to the CRRF for funding this critical area of work.

We would also like to acknowledge and extend our appreciation to the many community leaders and academics who were consulted in the process of developing our survey and research design.

Finally, we would like to thank each and every participant who shared their voice and lived experiences with us for this project. Recounting Islamophobic incidents and experiences of discrimination can be very difficult, and we truly appreciate each and every individual for taking the time and finding the strength to share their stories.

Principal Author and Researcher

Grace Barakat | PhD, Sessional Lecturer | University of Toronto

Editors

Miranda Gallo | Policy, Research and Advocacy Advisor | Islamic Relief Canada

Zoe Sheikh | Research Assistant | Islamic Relief Canada

Executive Summary

Introduction

Islamophobia Defined

Islamophobia at Work

Methodology

Limitations

Participant Demographics for the Survey

Theoretical Framework: Intersectionality

A Closer Look into Existing Research on Islamophobia in the Workplace

Survey Results

Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Labour Market Segmentation

Barriers to Employment

Islamophobia in the Workplace

What We Heard from Muslim Canadian Workers

Religious Accommodations at Work

Unions

The Case of Quebec

Survey Results

Quebec Focus Group Results

Virtual Interview Results

Downplaying Discrimination

Workplace Discrimination

Islamophobia, Hatred and the Hijab

Having to Go Above and Beyond in the Workplace

Inclusion and Accommodations Matter

Eradicating Systemic Islamophobia:

Recommendations for Meaningful Change

Annex: Demographic Breakdown of Survey Participants

MUSLIMS AT THE MARGINS: ISLAMOPHOBIA AND EMPLOYMENT 1
2 5 8
14 21 24 27 33 37
Table of Contents
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Executive Summary

For years, the Muslim Canadian community has struggled with the negative impacts and consequences of Islamophobia in employment, yet has lacked documented evidence to demonstrate the extent to which Islamophobia exists across various sectors and localities. Muslims at the Margins, is a confirmation of the widespread presence of Islamophobia in employment, revealing that the majority of Canadian Muslims surveyed for this study have experienced both formal, 67%, and informal, 84%, discrimination in the workplace.

The following report is a groundbreaking attempt to unveil the embeddedness of Islamophobia in employment, which persists at all levels and in all sectors of the Canadian labour market. Through the use of an online survey, focus group, and virtual interviews, this report applies an intersectional lens to explore the lived experiences of Islamophobia in the workplace and the ways in which it has impacted – and continues to impact – Canadian Muslims.

Special attention is given to the Muslim experience in Quebec — where many religious minorities are confronted with the real-life consequences of Bill 21.

Key Findings in this Study:

+ Regardless of social markers (i.e. gender, location, class, and visual representations of Islam,) the majority of Muslim participants self-reported experiencing Islamophobia in the workplace — across a wide range of sectors and professions — and believe their Muslim identity has been detrimental to their career growth and advancement.

+ The majority of Quebec-based research participants, 76%, feel their experience as Muslim workers in Quebec is more difficult1 than the experiences of Muslim workers in the rest of Canada. Alarmingly, a majority of Quebec-based respondents, 71%, feel that Bill 21 is extending its influence beyond its legal jurisdiction into private workplaces as well.

+ Despite being a highly-educated sample, most Muslim participants, 80%, felt that they could not work in particular types of jobs because of their Muslim identities and practices. This not only compromises their professional development, it can also deprive an organization — and the economy at large — of valuable potential and human resources.

+ Women who wear head or facial coverings (hijab or niqab) reported the highest levels of Islamophobia in the workplace — including greater difficulties in being hired; not being taken seriously as qualified candidates in their existing roles; and being held back for positions and advancement.

+ Notably, many survey participants, 60%, did not report incidents of formal and/or informal discrimination to their employer, largely due to discomfort and/or fear of repercussions and social fallout.

+ A majority of Muslims surveyed noticed an immediate increase in workplace discrimination and/or Islamophobia after terror attacks reportedly carried out by, or against, Muslims.

+ Muslims reported not consuming alcohol/dietary restrictions as the most common barrier to inclusivity and advancement in the workplace. Other barriers include: not fitting in with the culture of the company, being seen as the representative for an entire race and faith, prayer obligations, extended cultural duties towards their families, and a nonwestern accent.

+ Most participants were receiving some forms of — formal or informal — religious accommodation from their employers in the workplace. However, many did not have any formal arrangements in place, and often simply managed to find discreet and informal ways to practice their religion at work.

+ Racial, ethnic, gendered, and class lines coexist with those of religion and also need to be taken into consideration when tackling Islamophobia.

1 This may be a result of discriminatory policies such as Bill 21.

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Recommendations for Governments:

1. Federal, provincial and municipal governments must launch public awareness campaigns that humanize Canadian Muslims as valued members of society to combat and correct stereotypes and depictions surrounding Muslims.

2. Advocate for the eradication of overtly Islamophobic legislation, such as Bill 21.

3. Federal and provincial governments must invest more resources into understanding the causes of discrimination and systemic barriers that Muslim workers continue to face within the labour market, with an emphasis on intersectional identities.

4. As per the federal government’s Anti-Racism Strategy, move quickly to fill the appointment of a Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia.

Recommendations for Workplaces:

5. Publicize and share information on the formal avenues through which religious accommodations can be attained in the workplace. The formal process of requesting religious accommodations should be easy, comfortable, and accessible for employees.

6. Instill a workplace culture of inclusivity, where all employees are accommodated. For example, one where it is acceptable and common to network over non-alcoholic beverages, and at locations that are inclusive to all.

7. Employers should strive for representation in their leadership roles and for a diverse workforce.

8. Build and support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to help create inclusive workplaces.

9. Unions should endeavour to make their membership and leadership more inclusive and diverse by reaching out and supporting increased participation from disadvantaged groups.

10. Employers should implement structures in the workplace that allow Muslims to discuss, report, and address experiences of Islamophobia safely, confidentially, and without fear of repercussions.

11. Offer targeted and tailored diversity and inclusion training to educate the workforce on conscious and unconscious biases — including misconceptions of Islam and the hijab.

MUSLIMS AT THE MARGINS: ISLAMOPHOBIA AND EMPLOYMENT 3

Introduction

Research2 has established that racialized groups and some religious minorities — especially Muslims — face employment disadvantages. While structural efforts have been made to protect marginalized groups through legislation, 3 existing ideologies have often perpetuated the status quo rather than create meaningful change. Geopolitical and socio-historical narratives of Muslims have extended into the workplace, leading to hostility, exclusion, and rejection. Xenophobic 4 discourses have aggressively promoted stereotypes of Islam, influencing the ways in which Muslim are seen and treated.

For years, the Canadian Muslim community has struggled with the negative impacts and consequences of Islamophobia in employment, yet has lacked the data to demonstrate the extent to which Islamophobia persists at all levels of society. Through the use of an online survey, a focus group, and virtual interviews, Muslims at the Margins seeks to better understand the lived experiences of Islamophobia in the workplace and the ways in which it impacts Canadian Muslims.

Published data, including IRC’s earlier report on Islamophobia,5 speak to the prevalence of Islamophobia in both the private and public sector in the Canadian labour market. Previous studies have indicated a proliferation of Islamophobia in the workplace at all levels. For example, a Canadian

Labour Congress investigation revealed that Muslim immigrants were less likely to be in higher income brackets, and much more likely to have an annual income below $20,000, in comparison to members of other religious groups who immigrated to Canada.6 Research in several countries, including the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, substantiate these findings, revealing significant discrimination against Muslims in the labour market.

IRC’s earlier work on Islamophobia revealed that many incidents in Canada go unreported to HR departments; a phenomenon that parallels Statistics Canada’s 2019 data on police-reported hate crimes, which asserts that over two-thirds of hate crimes go unreported.7 These realities can cause or worsen economic disparities, and further the marginalization of Muslims in Canada.

Legislations such as Bill 218 in Quebec may be a contributing factor in the disenfranchisement of Muslims, including those employed or seeking employment outside the public sector, according to communities on the ground. Accordingly , we will also be exploring the potential inability of Muslims to gain employment in particular jobs.

2 Connor and Koenig, 2015; Galabuzi, 2006; Heath and Martin, 2013; Helly, 2004; Model and Lin, 2002; Reitz, 2007; Reitz and Banerjee, 2007.

3 e.g., The Canadian Human Right Act, The Employment Equity Act, etc.

4 An aversion or hostility to, disdain for, or fear of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers.

5 In Their Words: Untold Stories of Islamophobia in Canada, 2022.

6 Statistics Canada, 2016.

7 “Police-reported hate crimes, 2019,” Statistics Canada, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2021001/article/00002-eng.htm.

8 https://www.quebec.ca/gouvernement/politiques-orientations/laicite-etat/a-propos-loi-laicite.

MUSLIMS AT THE MARGINS: ISLAMOPHOBIA AND EMPLOYMENT 5
Muslim immigrants were less likely to be in higher income brackets, and were much more likely to have an annual income below $20,000 in comparison to members of other religious groups who immigrated to Canada.

Islamophobia Defined

Due to increased scholarly interest and research on the topic, a broad consensus continues to emerge on the definition of Islamophobia in academic literature. For our purposes, we will be using the definition found in Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 9 to guide our report.

Islamophobic, xenophobic and white-supremacist11 narratives have intensified in recent years, resulting in more frequent attacks on Muslims — especially upon visibly practicing Muslim women,12 whose bodies have all too often been the focus of political targeting and debates. In Canada, we recently witnessed three tragic and violent attacks against Muslims; the Quebec City Mosque shooting13 in January 2017, the Toronto IMO attack14 in 2020, and the attack15 in London, Ontario in June 2021.

Stereotypes of Muslims and the misrepresentation of Islam include, “religious fanatics, terrorists, hostile, evil, barbaric, wild, backward, disorganized, people who mistreat and oppress women, and as uncivilized”.16 Muslim women, on the other hand, tend to be depicted as passive, weak, selfoppressing and in need of saving.17

9 https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/news/2022/01/the-government-of-canada-intends-to-appoint-aspecial-representative-on-combatting-islamophobia.html.

10 https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/news/2022/01/the-government-of-canada-intends-to-appoint-aspecial-representative-on-combatting-islamophobia.html.

11 Beliefs and ideas purporting natural superiority of the lighter-skinned, or “white,” human races over other racial groups.

12 Bi, 2020; Abu-Lughod: 2002, Dwyer: 1999, Tarlo: 2007, Afshar: 2008, Haddad: 2007, Chakraborti and Zempi:, Jiwani: 2005, Perry: 2014, Ipsos Mori: 2017.

13 https://www.cbc.ca/news/fifthestate/under-attack-the-quebec-mosque-shooting-1.4256271.

14 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/9/18/canada-muslim-group-wants-murder-investigated-as-hatemotivated.

15 https://london.ctvnews.ca/timeline-london-ont-attack-kills-four-members-of-muslim-family-1.5461126.

16 Asani, 2003; Kamalipour, 2000; Kenny, 1975; Pipes, 1990.

17 Abu Lughod, Lila. Do Muslim Women Need Saving, Cambridge, Harvard University Press: 2013.

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Islamophobia can be referred to as “racism, stereotypes, prejudice, fear or acts of hostility directed towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general. In addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling, Islamophobia can lead to viewing and treating Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systemic and societal level.”10

Islamophobia At Work

Islamophobic stereotypes are transmitted into the labour market, potentially hindering the careers and professional development of all Muslims. These perceived and undesirable characteristics can be used consciously — or unconsciously — to deny Muslims job opportunities, promotions, and even the chance to form genuine connections with co-workers.

Generally, individuals whose identities are visible (e.g., women who wear the hijab or niqab) tend to encounter more discrimination than those without religious markers.18 Visible Muslims are thus in a position where they may encounter more incidences and harsher forms of Islamophobia than other non-visible Muslims. This particular issue has been given special attention in our report.

Islamophobia is gendered — as evidenced in the literature as well as IRC’s In Their Own Words (2021).19 For this reason, we intentionally engage in a gendered and intersectional analysis throughout the research.

Muslim women’s own narratives and lived experiences are commonly excluded from debates about them, further perpetuating the false notion that Muslim women are passive and lack agency to analyse their own situations. 20 Dominant stereotypes can become embedded in organizations through recruitment, pay, promotion, and retention practices, and they can also fuel subtle or overt discrimination in the workplace. 21

Muslim at the Margins seeks to capture voices nationwide and to better understand the lived experiences of all Muslims, in hopes of increasing public understanding of the impacts and consequences of Islamophobia in the workplace, including the possible disproportionate effects upon visibly Muslim women and Muslim Québeckers. 22

18 Jones, Farina, Hastorf, Markus, Miller, & Scott, 1984.

19 Academic journals, articles, submissions to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and civil society reviews.

20 Khan et al., 2022.

21 Sekerka & Yacobian, 2018.

22 See section ‘The Case of Quebec’.

MUSLIMS AT THE MARGINS: ISLAMOPHOBIA AND EMPLOYMENT 7

Methodology

This study used a mixed-methods approach to explore Islamophobia in the workplace through a combination of virtual interviews, an online survey, and a focus group. A cross-sectional, online survey was used to generate responses relating to religious accommodation, Islamophobic incidents in the workplace or in the process of searching for employment. The survey was distributed via snowball sampling through local connections. It was available for completion over a ten-week period between September and November 2022. A descriptive statistical analysis was performed on the close-ended questions using Survey Monkey software.

For the qualitative and descriptive portion of the study, a semi-structured interview guide was developed, and

Limitations

The findings presented below reflect a non-random sample of Canadian Muslims. They do not intend to be representative of the population but rather aim to shed light on the lived experiences24 of Muslims throughout the country by self-reporting their perceptions, feelings, and personal accounts. It is anticipated that these stories will add to the existing literature on Islamophobia in Canada, by way of including the voices and struggles of the community.

data was collected through virtual interviews over an online video platform. Having the opportunity to capture the details and nuances of how Muslims felt after incidents of Islamophobia was crucial to our report.

Individuals who completed our online survey were asked to participate in a voluntary virtual interview, and were compensated23 for their time. The vast majority of participants agreed to be interviewed and 20 were chosen to participate based on their response time and geographic location, in order to capture a variety of experiences. The 20 interviews conducted were with a wide range of Muslims — and although most participants identified as female — they ranged in age, ethnicity, class, and skin colour. Interviews were audio-recorded and

transcribed immediately following the sessions. Pseudonyms were assigned to protect the confidentiality of participant identities. All interviews were held between October and November 2022.

A focus group discussion of 13 members of the Muslim community was conducted in Montreal, Quebec to understand the realities of Islamophobia in the workplace as well as the impacts of Bill 21 in the province. A semi-structured interview guide was developed, and participant responses were transcribed during the discussion. A thematic analysis was used to explore the responses provided by participants.

23 Participants were given a gift card upon completion of their interview.

24 Lived experience involves representation and understanding of a researcher or research subject’s human experiences, choices, and options and how those factors influence one’s perception of knowledge. [… it] responds not only to people’s experiences, but also to how people live through and respond to those experiences. […] Lived experience seeks to understand the distinctions between lives and experiences and tries to understand why some experiences are privileged over others (Boylorn, 2008, p.490).

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Participant Demographics for the Survey

Participants ranged in ages as 41% were under the age of 30, 34% were between the ages of 31-40, 16% were between the ages of 41-50, and 8% were over the age of 50. Many participants, 46%, were Canadian citizens by naturalization, while 38% were Canadian citizens by birth. The remaining were landed immigrants/ permanent residents, 11%, or had immigrant work/student permits, 2%. 25

Most participants, 66%, were working full-time in some capacity, 14% were working part-time in some capacity, and 5% were unemployed. 26 Of those working full-time, 47% were working in-person, 21% were working

remotely, and 32% were working hybrid. Of the 5% of unemployed participants, the majority, 52%, were unemployed for less than a year. 29% were unemployed for one to three years, 3% for three to five years, and 10% for over five years. 27

The majority of participants, 67%, have experienced significant periods of unemployment to some extent throughout their career, while 31% have not. 28 However, of the 67%, only 5% experienced ‘a great deal’ of significant periods of unemployment, while 14% experienced ‘a moderate amount’, 22% ‘an occasional amount’ and 26% ‘a rare amount’. Participants were employed in a variety of

industries including health care and social assistance, 17%, educational services, 14%, finance and insurance, 10%, and professional, scientific and technical services, 7%, among others.

They had a wide range of individual annual incomes. A small minority, 23%, were earning less than $25,000, followed closely by 20% earning over $100,000. 20% were earning $25,000 to less than $50,000, 19% were earning $50,000 to less than $75,000, while 17% were earning $75,000 to less than $100,000.

25

26

27 6.45% responded ‘other’.

28 2.23% responded ‘other’.

MUSLIMS AT THE MARGINS: ISLAMOPHOBIA AND EMPLOYMENT 9
There were 1,040 initial submissions to our survey, however when the data was filtered for those who identify as Muslim, the total amounted the total amounted to 691 participants. The remaining 3% were a combination of refugees, “not a citizen”, or prefer not to say. The remaining 15% were a combination of stay at home full-time, students, retirees, those on social assistance or disability pension (Ontario Disability Support Program, Ontario Works, etc.).
58%
35% Male 691
73% had a university undergraduate degree or higher 66% were working full-time in some capacity
were of South Asian origins 72% resided in Ontario 65% Female
Participants

Participant Demographics for the Interviews and Quebec-based Focus Group

As noted, 20 virtual interviews were conducted to better understand incidents of Islamophobia in the workplace. Throughout the interviews, a large majority of participants identified as female. Of these participants, most wore a headscarf (the hijab) and resided in Ontario. Participants ranged in age and some were completing their

studies or had recently graduated university, while others were wellestablished in their careers. Fields of employment were diverse with some participants working in retail, factories, and customer service, and others in education, healthcare, and the nonprofit sector.

One focus group was held at a university in Montreal, Canada. Of the 13 participants, the majority were male, with only four females — all of whom wore the hijab. Most of the participants were current students, but with some level of employment. Three other participants had recently graduated and were now working full-time.

Theoretical Framework: Intersectionality

Incorporating an intersectional lens to our work adds great value and meaning to the results. It creates space for the often hyper-marginalized groups that tend to be overlooked or ignored.

Intersectionality can be understood as a concept that examines the “interaction between systems of oppression.”29 Adopting an intersectional approach to work on Islamophobia in the workplace is essential; through this lens, the impacts of oppressive social markers such as race, gender, visibility, class, ability, etc. are analyzed cumulatively and in relation to one another.

Those who face multiple and intersecting barriers based on their social location can experience heightened forms of discrimination. These markers form both unique and powerful perspectives on the multiple layers of oppression that can impact the lives of Muslims.

When examining this issue through an intersectional lens, Muslims with multiple social markers, for example, visibly Muslim racialized women, will face heightened levels of oppression. This particular group can face even higher degrees of Islamophobia in the workplace because of their intersecting race, gender, and visibility. Therefore, the experience of racialized and visibly Muslim women may well differ in degree and form from those of various other Muslims.

MUSLIMS AT THE MARGINS: ISLAMOPHOBIA AND EMPLOYMENT 11
29 Phoenix, & Pattynama, 2006, p.193.

A Closer Look into Existing Research on Islamophobia in the Workplace

There is a convincing body of work demonstrating that Islamophobia exists in Canada; however, there are fewer studies exploring this phenomenon in the workplace. Islamophobia comes in many different forms and research suggests that there are distinct regional and socio-demographic patterns of Islamophobia in the country.

For example, negative attitudes towards Muslims are more prevalent among residents of Quebec, older populations, individuals with low-levels of education, and those who identify as politically conservative. 30 However, when Muslims self-reported experiences of discrimination they also identified living in Atlantic Canada, being born in North America, and living in racially, ethnically, or religiously violent neighbourhoods, as additionally important variables. 31

Previous studies on workplace discrimination have mostly focused on racial and gendered components, with few investigating whether a specifically Muslim religious identity fosters discrimination. Since discrimination is often subtle, it can be difficult to capture, making work on Islamophobia in the workplace in need of more focussed research. Islamophobia, and other forms of discrimination, are linked to structures and discourses that penetrate the workplace and are reproduced in daily interactions. 32

Discrimination in hiring practices is one of the many ways Muslims can experience Islamophobia in workplace interactions. A recent study showed that in Quebec, job applicants with family names suggesting an Arab ethnicity were up to two times less likely to be hired. 33

In the United Kingdom, the Social Mobility Commission report34 found that Islamophobia, racism and discrimination increasingly disrupts the professional and career development of Muslims. Some of the barriers reported begin early on in the lives of Muslims contributing to their eventual discrimination in the workplace. Barriers to success 35 identified in the report include ethnic-sounding names; the hijab; the lower expectations of minority ethnic and/or Muslim students in school; fewer resources and time invested in the education of minority ethnic and/or Muslim students; the embedded culture of alcohol at networking events and in the workplace; and the need to apologize to colleagues after act of terror take place. 36

30 Phoenix, & Pattynama, 2006, p.193. Mercier-Dalphond, G., & Helly, D. (2021). Anti-Muslim violence, hate crime, and victimization in Canada: A Study of five Canadian cities. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 53(1), 1-22.

31 Phoenix, & Pattynama, 2006, p.193. Mercier-Dalphond, G., & Helly, D. (2021). Anti-Muslim violence, hate crime, and victimization in Canada: A Study of five Canadian cities. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 53(1), 1-22.

32 Allen, 2010; Sekerka & Yacobian, 2018.

33 Beauregard, J. P. (2020). Les frontières invisibles de l’embauche des Québécois minoritaires: hiérarchie ethnique, effet modérateur du genre féminin et discrimination systémique: dévoiler la barrière à l’emploi par un testing à Québec.

34 The Social Mobility Commission is an advisory, non-departmental public body established under the Life Chances Act 2010 as modified by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. It has a duty to assess progress in improving social mobility in the United Kingdom and to promote social mobility in England. It currently consists of 4 commissioners and is supported by a small secretariat. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/young-muslims-in-the-uk-faceenormous-social-mobility-barriers.

35 In the workplace, and leading up to their working lives.

36 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/young-muslims-in-the-uk-face-enormous-social-mobility-barriers.

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Furthermore, a study in the UK conducted in 2020 reported that 47% of Muslim women had encountered Islamophobia and discrimination in the workplace. 37 When asked about ways to remedy the situation, participants listed the following: mentoring and advice, greater understanding/openness from employers, greater understanding/openness from colleagues, targeted schemes from employers, and networking opportunities.

While prevailing research indicates that Islamophobia does indeed exist in the workplace in Canada, it is important to further understand the following:

+ The varied ways in which it manifests, and its prevalence.

+ Which Muslim community members face the most and intense incidents.

+ The possible mechanisms to protect Muslim workers when incidents occur.

+ The extent to which employers in Canada currently extend religious accommodations to Muslims, especially with the rise of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion frameworks and strategies.

Barriers to success identified in the report include ethnic-sounding names; the hijab; the lower expectations of minority ethnic and/or Muslim students in school; fewer resources and time invested in the education of minority ethnic and/or Muslim students; the embedded culture of alcohol at networking events and in the workplace; and the need to apologize to colleagues after act of terror take place.
37 Bi, S. (2020). Unlocking the Workplace for Muslim Women. Muslim Women Connect.

Survey Results

Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Labour Market Segmentation

Perhaps one of the most alarming findings from our study is that Muslims participants felt constrained in their ability to be employed in all sectors of the labour market. The majority of participants — a vast 80% — felt that they could not work in particular types of jobs and/or industries (e.g., as a waitress, manager, teacher, firefighter, politician, etc.) because of their Muslim identity.

This finding sheds light on the disturbing reality of Islamophobia in Canada, which continues to pose a challenge to Muslim participation in Canadian society and the economy.

Of all subgroups analyzed, an overwhelming majority of visibly Muslim women, 90%, felt they could not work in particular jobs or sectors, due to their religious identity.

However, even among the participants who are non-visibly Muslim, the majority, 68%, felt that they could not work in particular types of jobs 38 because of their religious identity. While non-visible Muslims may be able to access work difficult to attain for other, more visible, Muslims, challenges still remain.

Despite our sample comprising of highly educated Muslims (See Annex) most participants still felt their religious identity as a Muslim was a barrier to employment in particular types of jobs. This indicates that despite policies and efforts to reduce and/or eliminate discrimination in the workplace, the systemic and structural impacts of Islamophobia persist. These findings are in line with previous research which has demonstrated that religion can affect people’s employment prospects and opportunities. 39

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100 80 60 40 20 0 80% 90% 68% 88% Reported
Unable to Work in Particular Types of Jobs Due to Muslim Identity All Muslims Women who wear the hijab and niqab Non-visible Muslims Visible Muslims 38 E.g., as a waitress, manager, teacher, firefighter, politician, etc. 39 Ghumman & Jackson, 2010.
Feeling

Barriers to Employment

When asked about reasons preventing them from being hired for a job, 40 38% of participants cited the misrepresentation/ stereotypes of Muslims, while 38% cited the hijab, the niqab, a beard, or any other visual religious/cultural clothing. Another largely cited reason, 37%, was the name of the participant, the culture of alcohol, 28%, and the perception of not being able to mix with fellow workers freely, 20%. 41

Visibly Muslim women identified “the hijab, niqab, or any other visual religious/cultural clothing” as the top reason preventing them from being hired for a job at 70%. This finding drastically differed from all Muslims 42 with a 32 percentage point difference between the two.

One participant recalls, “This was the reason I stopped wearing a hijab. Your choices of being hired are slim. I do not talk about my religion or advertise that I am a Muslim.”

These findings are consistent with the literature on Islamophobia which demonstrates that those who are visibly Muslim experience more discrimination than those with less apparent and concealable stigmas. Furthermore, existing research has found that being visibly Muslim is the “most powerful antecedent to negative behaviours against Muslims, with the hijab being identified as a primary

visual identifier.”43 The hijab is one of the most visible symbols of Islam, and in the context of religion, groups with the most visibly distinct religious representations usually face the greatest discrimination.

Of the non-visibly Muslim sample, 50% of participants cited their name as the primary reason preventing them from being hired for a job; a 13 percentage point increase compared to all Muslim participants in the study.

One participant recounts, “After landing in Canada (in New Brunswick) I kept looking for a job for two years. I wasn’t getting any interviews except when I changed my name.”

Interestingly, visible-Muslims did not cite their name as the primary reason preventing them from being hired for a job. Perhaps the only way to identify non-visible Muslims 44 as Muslim was through their name, which functioned as a barrier to being hired.

Historically, Muslims have been represented in the media as barbaric, uncivilized, violent, and aggressive 45 (especially for men). Equivalent representations of Muslim women have centered around them being oppressed, docile, and self-oppressing46 — which when carried into the labour market means they are often not taken seriously or considered for senior positions.

Orientalism

Attempts to show how Western scholars, journalists, authors and artists helped to build up a prevalent and hostile image of the Eastern cultures as inferior, stagnant, and degenerate.

Also attempts to show the extent to which these representations permeate the Western culture.

The central premise of Orientalism is that the Orient is a fundamentally different, exotic, dangerous, unchanging, barbaric and “other” place.

This concept of a foreign and strange East forms a set of cultural, political, religious, and linguistic contrasts which, in turn, has enabled the “West” to think of itself as a distinct—and superior—entity.

Orientalism does not reflect objective truth. Instead, it is an invention of the Western mind.

40 The reasons they think they didn’t get the job.

41 This was a ‘check all that apply’ question, the percentages will not total 100.

42 Not all Muslims wear a hijab or niqab

43 Ghumman, S., & Ryan, A. M. (2013). Not welcome here: Discrimination towards women who wear the Muslim headscarf. Human relations, 66(5), 671-698.

44 Especially because they do NOT wear/adopt a hijab, niqab, Jilbab /abaya (long gown), traditional Asian salwar kameez, long beard, or Topi.

45 Saeed, A. (2007). Media, racism and Islamophobia: The representation of Islam and Muslims in the media. Sociology Compass, 1(2), 443-462.

46 Abu Lughod, Lila. Do Muslim Women Need Saving, Cambridge, Harvard University Press: 2013.

MUSLIMS AT THE MARGINS: ISLAMOPHOBIA AND EMPLOYMENT 15

Islamophobia in the Workplace Muslim Workers Are Being Held Back

Regarding progress at work (e.g., being promoted), the majority of Muslims, 70%, felt that to some extent they have been held back in their career progression because of their Muslim identity.

78% of the women who wear a hijab or niqab reported that their progress at work had been held back due to their Muslim identity to some extent; when compared to all Muslims, there was an almost 8 percentage point increase.

The majority of non-visible Muslim, 59%, also felt that their progress at work had been held back due to their Muslim identity to some extent; however non-visible Muslims were 11 percentage points lower than the average of all participants. Although the majority did feel that their progress at work has been held back due to their Muslim or perceived Muslim identity, it was not to the same extent as all Muslims or women who wear a hijab or niqab. This further emphasizes the need for intersectional work as Muslims experience varying levels of Islamophobia and different barriers based on their social markers and locations.

“Not consuming alcohol/dietary restrictions” was reported as the most common barrier to advancement in the workplace — a phenomenon that has been supported by other studies. 47 Networking and drinking practices that are accepted as mainstream in our society are exclusionary and isolating for many Canadian workers. These practices can alienate women in general, as well as those who do not feel comfortable going to bars or consuming alcohol, or those who choose not to drink based on their religious or cultural practices.

This type of networking can often lead to missed opportunities for those who do not take part in the activity, and they can be viewed as ‘antisocial’ by their peers. As one participant recalls, “I was denied

a promotion for a management position and after a few weeks my manager quit. Before leaving he told me the real and only reason I didn’t get the job was that I didn’t drink alcohol which meant that I wasn’t outgoing enough.”

Previous work has shown this type of networking culture can prove to be socially isolating for Muslim workers, who are not afforded opportunities to connect with their coworkers and fully participate in workplace culture. 48 In fact, “not fitting in with the culture of the company” was reported as a common barrier.

It can be difficult to be accepted and to feel included in the dominant culture as a religious minority, and the ‘Old Boys’ Club’ is certainly a contributing factor,

according to our survey results. Many workplaces have been trying to be more equitable, diverse, and inclusive in recent years. Whether these new policies and practices will be effective in making Muslims and other marginalized groups feel comfortable and part of the workplace culture remains to be seen.

For Muslim women specifically, 56% who wear a hijab or niqab reported being treated as a representation of the entire faith as the most significant barrier they face to employment. This is an almost 9 percentage point increase compared to the rest of survey participants — for whom this was the third most common barrier.

MUSLIMS AT THE MARGINS: ISLAMOPHOBIA AND EMPLOYMENT 17
47 https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-why-after-work-drinks-arent-so-fun-for-everyone/ 48 Bi, S. (2020). Unlocking the Workplace for Muslim Women. Muslim Women Connect.

Formal and Informal Islamophobia in the Workplace

A majority, 67%, of respondents reported experiencing formal discrimination in the workplace due to their Muslim identity (e.g., unequal access to promotions, pay, and job responsibilities, or discriminatory policies such as dress code). Furthermore, 83% self-reported having experienced informal discrimination in the workplace due to their Muslim identity (e.g., interactions and quality of relationships formed with co-workers/customers, left out of decision making, being talked down to).

One participant recalls, “I was physically attacked at my workplace for being brown. Around 20-30 people witnessed & watched. The camera footage was then deleted by my employer. I was made so uncomfortable at work that I ended up quitting a 12 year career. My manager told other employees that although I was good at what I did, I always read the Quran and that’s all I was interested in so it’s better that I left.”

In a heartbreaking account, one individual speaks to the torment informal Islamophobia has brought upon them at work:

“People look down or away when I speak or when my name is mentioned. People greet nonMuslims, socialize with them [yet] they do not even look at me. People clear their throats whenever I speak or do something or when they cross me in the corridor. When I address people, some ignore me totally and some pretend to be talking to somebody else or to be drinking something. People yell at me. People cut me when I speak. People go away when I speak or when I am invited to participate in a conversation. People always spy on my monitor at work to check whether I am really working. People insult me every time I sneeze in a very low voice. People insult me in a very low voice every time they pass by my desk. People look down as soon as I enter the meeting room. I get comments like ‘anti-social’ during annual reviews, while I don’t

speak to anybody and I’m not doing my best at work because of their mistreatment.”

Our findings indicate that both formal and informal discrimination are impacting the majority of Muslims in the survey, which can have severe consequences on career development and progression, as well as mental health.

Even amongst non-visible Muslims — who are less likely to experience Islamophobia to the same degree as visible Muslims — the majority, 63%, claim to have experienced formal discrimination 49 in the workplace to some extent. In addition, 76% experienced informal discrimination50 in the workplace to some extent.

49 Unequal access to promotions, pay, and job responsibilities, or discriminatory policies such as dress code. 50 Interactions and quality of relationships that formed with co-workers/customers, left out of decision making, being talked down to.

Self-reported Experiencing Informal Discrimination in the Workplace (all Muslims)

Notably, when asked about their actions after experiencing formal and/or informal discrimination, most survey participants, 60%, did not report the incident(s) to their employer for several reasons, as follows: not comfortable doing so, 39%, worried about formal and informal repercussions, 33%, fear of co-workers’ opinions/ reactions, 29%, and already resolved the issue informally with those involved, 10% .51

These results indicate that Muslims experiencing formal and informal discrimination in the workplace did not feel that they had a safe space to voice their concerns. Reporting an incident of formal or informal discrimination is difficult in any circumstance, but from an intersectional lens, these difficulties may be heightened for Muslims, especially those who are hyper-marginalized (i.e., those with multiple axes of disadvantage such as race, religion, gender, ability, etc.)

If actions were taken by their employer, some participants were satisfied, 30%, while others generally unsatisfied, 31%, by the outcome(s).52 Survey responses indicate that workplace policies are not protecting employees in the way they intend to or possibly do not exist in some organizations.

The fact that Muslims feel that they cannot be employed in all sectors of the labour market53 is not only a major setback for Muslim Canadians, but also a hindrance to the overall Canadian economy. If Muslims cannot be employed in all sectors of the labour market, there may be horizontal and/or vertical education-job mismatches54 at play.

51 This was a ‘check all that apply’ question, the percentages will not total 100.

52 The remaining 39% selected ‘other’.

53 Bill 21 in Quebec bans public employees, including teachers, judges and police officers, from wearing symbols of faith such as the hijab and niqab.

54 Banerjee, Verma, A., & Zhang, T. (2019). Brain Gain or Brain Waste? Horizontal, Vertical, and Full Job-Education Mismatch and Wage Progression among Skilled Immigrant Men in Canada. The International Migration Review, 53(3), 646–670. https://doi.org/10.1177/0197918318774501.

MUSLIMS AT THE MARGINS: ISLAMOPHOBIA AND EMPLOYMENT 19
84% | Yes
16% | No

Terror Attacks and Workplace Discrimination

Most participants noticed an immediate increase in workplace discrimination and/or Islamophobia after terror attacks reportedly carried out by, 69%, or against, 57%, Muslims.

This finding is similar to a previous study,55 conducted in 2020, which revealed that Muslims had to apologize to colleagues every time there was a terrorist incident. Virtual interviews confirmed this experience as many of the participants, especially women who wear the hijab, reported being seen and treated as the voice of Islam or as responsible for the actions of all Muslims. This put an additional amount of stress and pressure on women wearing the hijab, as they felt that the entire religion was put on their shoulders.

Stereotypes of Muslims, often perpetuated by the media, have led to Orientalist narratives of “the dangerous Muslim man, the oppressed Muslim woman and the violent faith of Islam”.56 These stereotypes are largely responsible for the suspicion, apprehension, and hostility toward Muslims in and outside of the workplace.

Furthermore, this emphasizes the power of the media in shaping the perceptions of Islam and Muslims. It seems that Muslims are being unfairly penalized for the actions of extremists and it raises issues of the ways in which we are educating the general population on terror attacks and on Islam.

20 ISLAMIC RELIEF CANADA
55 Stevenson, J., Demack, S., Stiell, B., Abdi, M., Ghaffar, F., & Hassan, S. (2017). The social mobility challenges faced by young Muslims. 56 Khan, 2022.

What We Heard from Muslim Canadian Workers

“Being asked if I’m Bin Laden’s daughter.”

“A patient in our oncology clinic asked out loud if I can work in the clinic wearing that — meaning the hijab. Another time, a patient asked if my husband approved of me working or if I was going against my religion while working as a nurse and talking to male clients.”

“When someone forgot my name, they just called me Mohamed.”

“I always feel like I have to be the face of the entire religion when there is such little diversity at work. Anything and everything I do is being hyper-fixated on by others, all waiting for me to do something wrong. I always feel ostracized and separated from others.”

“A colleague asked me in a rude tone if I ‘get hot wearing my hat (hijab),’ I regularly do not have meal options, Christmas is celebrated but no other holidays are recognized, and I’m expected to respond to events like the London attack even though I was traumatized.”

“When I asked a supervisor for a religious holiday off, they replied that it was not a religious holiday in this country.”

“Worked in a high security environment [where I] was reported as a security threat and then interrogated by security including my religion, my ex-husband’s religion, our custody agreement, and why I became Muslim.”

“I was told that I was not really from Quebec. I was also mocked for fasting and asked if my wedding was arranged.”

“I feel I constantly need to prove that I am a regular Canadian. I have to be extremely friendly and understanding or I am viewed as harsh, old fashioned and mean. I know that students and staff can be intimidated by the fact I wear a hijab, so I am constantly aware of this.”

“At a previous role, I grew a beard over the Christmas holidays (I was previously clean shaven.) When we returned to the workplace in January, I was told that I looked like a terrorist, and then a (white, female) co-worker pulled up photos of the 9/11 hijackers and said ‘You’d fit right in.’”

“The owner of a mid-sized company asked me to cut my beard. When I responded that it was part of my religious beliefs, he replied with, ‘If I can let go of my wife, you can let go of your beard.’ This was not meant to be funny but was a direct ask. This was later followed up with a formal review by my line manager who asked me to comply with the owner….When I explained the situation, the line manager tried to persuade me to think about my obligations to family before just brushing aside the directive.”

“I attended a work event where the entire team went to a cottage for the weekend…. our cottage trip was filled with going to wineries around Niagara Falls and taste testing which was super awkward because all of the Muslims there didn’t drink. We awkwardly stood around as everyone helped themselves to the drinks and activities. It felt like the company did not care that 30% of the workers were Muslims and provided no options for them.”

“On 9/11 I was walked up [to] and told happy birthday.”

Religious Accommodations at Work

Most of the participants in the survey were receiving religious accommodations at their workplace in some capacity. For some, religious accommodations were part of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion policies, and for others, their accommodations were informal.

A large majority of participants, 85%, sought out religious accommodations at their workplace, while 15% did not. Of the 85%, who sought out religious accommodations at their workplace, 91% were met by their employers to some extent,57 and 7% were not.58 59

Employers provided religious accommodations to participants in the form of access to a praying room/ space, 54%, inclusive dress codes at work, 42%, Halal food options at workplace meetings or events, 36%, the ability to attend jummah/ Friday prayers, 30%, and provisions for male and female employees to conduct mutual business in safe and visible spaces, 17%.60 10% of participants stated that their employers did not provide them with any of the abovementioned religious accommodations.

These findings demonstrate that employers are, for the most part, accommodating some of the religious

needs of Muslims in the workplace. It also reveals that most participants in the survey sought out religious accommodations on their own accord — and that this is presently an important part of the process. This is a step in the right direction as participants must have, to some degree, felt empowered enough to make religious accommodation requests.

For those that did not seek out religious accommodations at their workplace, 51% did not feel comfortable asking for them, 35% did not require any accommodations, and 19% did not display or disclose their religious identity at work. 61 This result suggests that, despite gains in religious accommodations, there is still some room to foster a more inclusive workplace, but that the onus to receive accommodations should not be dependent upon the initiative of the individual.

Moreover, when non-visibly Muslim participants were asked about the reasons preventing them from seeking religious accommodations, 38% cited a reluctance to display or disclose their religious identity at work; a 33 percentage point increase compared to all Muslims.

Future research should examine whether not displaying or disclosing religious identity at work is a strategy adopted by some Muslims to experience less discrimination and Islamophobia in the workplace, or if it is simply a personal choice.

When asked whether or not their workplaces have Equity, Diversity and Inclusion policies that include religious diversity, nearly half of participants, 47%, confirmed this was the case, whereas 23% stated no. Notably, 28% of participants were unsure of their company policies — something that was echoed in the Quebec-based focus group discussion.62 The fact that nearly a third of participants were unsure of the religious accommodations at their workplace indicates a need for clearer or more accessible information (including what types of accommodations are available) for employees. Furthermore, greater institutional awareness will lessen the need for individual employees to take the initiative to request accommodations.

57 26.90% had their religious accommodations met a moderate amount, 24.02% a great deal, 20.74% a little, 19.30% a lot.

58 2% selected ‘other’.

59 This topic is further discussed in the virtual interviews on page 28 of this report.

60 This was a ‘check all that apply’ question, the percentages will not total 100.

61 This was a ‘check all that apply’ question, the percentages will not total 100.

62 1.61% selected ‘other’.

22 ISLAMIC RELIEF CANADA

Unions

Over a quarter of participants were unionized, 28%. For the majority of these unionized participants, 67%, did not contact/ rely on their union or union representative to discuss or acquire religious accommodations and/or Islamophobia in the workplace, while 29% 63 did. For unionized participants who did not contact/rely on their union or union representative to discuss or acquire religious accommodations and/or Islamophobia, most, 48%, never had the need to do so. For others, 32% were unaware that they could contact their union for such matters, 22% felt that the lack of representation/diversity in the union stopped them from doing so, and 22% cited a lack of trust as the reason for not contacting/relying on their union to discuss or acquire religious accommodations and/or Islamophobia in the workplace. 64

These findings indicate that a large portion of unionized participants are unaware of the protections and accommodations that their unions can — or should — negotiate on their behalf. For those that are aware of the accommodations and support, and chose to not seek them out, it is possible that structural issues prevented them from feeling safe or seen within the union. Suggestions on ways to make unions more inclusive and diverse can be found in our recommendations section.

63 4.60% selected ‘other’. 64 This was a ‘check all that apply’ question, so the percentages will not total 100.

The Case of Quebec Survey Results

When designing the report, a special focus on the experiences of individuals residing in Quebec was incorporated. As a province that has codified and enabled religious discrimination through Bill 21,65 Quebec deserves special attention to capture the unique voices of those most impacted.

Given the realities of life under Bill 21, unsurprisingly, 76% of Quebec-based participants said their experiences as Muslim workers in Quebec were more difficult66 than the experiences of Muslim workers in the rest of Canada.

When focusing exclusively on women who wear a hijab or niqab residing in Quebec, results also indicated increased levels of marginalization. For example, 100% of women who wear a hijab or niqab feel that their experience as Muslim workers in Quebec is more difficult than the experience of Muslim workers in the rest of Canada.

In one of the open-ended questions asked in the survey, we heard from Muslim women from Quebec who lost their employment due to Bill 21.

One such woman stated: “I was working at a school in Quebec, but had to quit because I wear a hijab. No incident happened, but I was forced by Bill 21 to leave and get into a different field.”

Another shared, “Because I wear a hijab I had to renounce my dream job to be a teacher, as I live in Quebec.”

Alarmingly, a worrying 71% of participants felt that Bill 21 has – to some extent – had an impact on workplaces outside its jurisdiction. Once again, 100% of women who wear a hijab or niqab felt that Bill 21 has had an impact on other workplaces. As one prominent community leader noted in an interview,

25% | No

“The government is a model for society. If the government adopts a model, other businesses will carry out the same policies. The government is saying Bill 21 only affects government positions, but it is not true. In reality, it affects all kinds of jobs. If the public is institutionalizing one thing, the private sector will follow.”

These results illustrate the power of the provincial government’s reach and the stark reality of heightened Islamophobia in Quebec. The results also reveal a bleak outlook among Muslims in the province. When asked if they feel optimistic in the future regarding employment, 41% said not at all, 28% very little, 9% somewhat, 4% quite a bit, and 1% a great deal. These results indicate that Muslims in Quebec feel strongly that their futures are precarious based on the institutionalized Islamophobia they are experiencing.

Do

75% | Yes

24 ISLAMIC RELIEF CANADA
65 Bill 21 in Quebec bans public employees, including teachers, judges and police officers, from wearing symbols of faith such as the hijab and niqab. 66 This may be a result of discriminatory policies
as Bill 21.0.
you feel that your experience as a Muslim worker in Quebec is more difficult than the experience of a Muslim worker in the rest of Canada?
such

Quebec Focus Group Results

The focus group had similar themes to the virtual interviews. However, the overall tone of the Quebec focus group discussion was significantly more somber, matching the gravity of the situation on the ground.

All 13 focus group participants experienced some degree of Islamophobia in the workplace. The incidents of discrimination shared by Muslims living in the province were more overt and aggressive.

To demonstrate the magnitude of the situation, one participant even gave researchers a five page single-spaced document he had developed detailing all the Islamophobic experiences and incidents he endured at the workplace from 2017 to 2022. These ranged from mockery and insults towards him for his religion to the use of vulgar language with the intention to offend, and aggressive and socially-isolating behaviour towards him. Others shared stories of passive-aggressive acts such as, “having coworkers during Ramadan mockingly chew their food louder in my face and laugh.”

“Torment” and “torture” were two words that were repeatedly used by nearly every Quebec focus group participant when sharing their stories of workplace discrimination with one another.

Another common theme found in the focus group, as well as the online survey and virtual interviews, was the barrier of alcohol to career advancement and progression.

“As a Muslim, it’s hard to get promotions because we don’t get involved in activities where there’s alcohol involved. This gets you labeled as anti-social. It’s not always obvious the Islamophobia we face, but we get pushed to the margins because we don’t participate in company activities involving alcohol and so on. Especially in Quebec, there is a large cinq- à-sept (5-7pm) drinking work culture.”

The social component of work life is an important factor in gaining promotions, new opportunities, and in fitting into the workplace culture. Muslims in Quebec are

already ostracized by provincial legislation, having to decline social activities and events because of their religious beliefs only adds to their stigmatization.

When probed about the ways in which Muslims in Quebec cope with systemic and institutional Islamophobia, participants pointed to the importance of finding a larger workplace with diverse employees. One participant found that working with other immigrants was important, urging his peers to “go to a bigger company where there may be people specializing in diversity or at least one or two other immigrants there that you can relate to.” This sentiment was echoed by another participant saying, “it’s always easier when there are Muslims at work with you and you are not on your own. It is very difficult in Quebec on your own.”

Quebec Focus Group Results cont’d

This result was also found in the virtual interviews, as participants stated that working with other Muslims was comforting, less alienating, and put them more at ease. Additionally, in the virtual interviews, having a supportive team and allies in the workplace was reported as a major factor to a safe and healthy working environment. However, as Quebec continues to foster a more hostile and intolerant working environment for Muslims and other religious minorities, finding supportive and accepting co-workers may be more difficult for Muslims in Quebec in comparison to those in the rest of Canada.

Others commented on the influence of policies, “laws have normative power. For Islamophobic people, laws like Bill 21 validate those thoughts and validate the action of firing and discriminating against Muslims.” In fact, when asked directly about the implications of Bill 21, participants revealed a plethora of traumatic stories. Many participants were forced to change their career paths or leave industries altogether because they were legally prohibited from working in them.

Given the grim reality on the ground in Quebec, the majority of participants were considering — even looking forward to — leaving Quebec to move somewhere more accepting of Muslims.

“By the end of the year Insha’Allah (God willing) I’m going to leave Quebec for another province. After more than 4 years here, I still get talked down to as an immigrant. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been here forever, they still treat me as though I arrived today.”

“I was raised in Montreal, but I was born in Ontario. As an anglophone, a person of colour, and a Muslim – this is the worst position to be in here. When thinking about what I want to do in life, there is only one thing. My dream has always been just to move back to Ontario. Especially now due to Bill 21.”

This sentiment was noted by one prominent Montreal-based community leader we spoke to, who stated “I know many families who have left Quebec for Ontario. From Day 1 also with the singling out of religious minorities — even before Bill 21. These families don’t want to feel this, they don’t want to leave. But Quebec is a special case. We are a minority in the majority.”

A recent graduate spoke of her experience, “I studied law to become a lawyer. In 2019, Bill 21 was passed and in 2020, I graduated. I didn’t wear the hijab then, but now I do, and I knew this would be difficult for me and my career path. I can no longer be a prosecutor, for example. I made sure to take both common and civil law so that I could be eligible for the Ontario bar if I need to practice there.”

“But I have decided to study for and take the Quebec bar anyway, for other Muslim women who look like me. We are the resistance. We have to fi ght.”

Although Quebec’s discriminatory policies have undoubtedly impacted the lives of Muslims, themes of resistance and resilience were also expressed during the focus group.

“Bill 21 made me wonder if I should leave Quebec, but I still decided [to stay] because we need people to fight and not give up if you have the capacity.”

“We are broken, but we can solve some of these problems… we need to stop being afraid.”

Despite the violent attacks, and oppressive policies, Muslims in Quebec remain a strong and selfempowering group of people.

26 ISLAMIC RELIEF CANADA
“My sister turned 19 recently and she has always wanted to become a teacher. Ever since she was a little girl she would be playing and pretending she was a teacher. With Bill 21, her life completely changed. Now she’s trying to find herself in the world of business but everyone at home knows her true passion is teaching. And we come from a line of teachers. This has been heartbreaking to watch.”

Virtual Interview Results

The virtual interviews with Muslim Canadians were very insightful and gave researchers an opportunity to expand upon survey findings in order to better understand the barriers Muslims encounter in the workplace and lived experiences of Islamophobia. A thematic analysis was conducted, which led to the development of several broad themes:

+ downplaying experiences of Islamophobia

+ negative special treatment

+ positive special treatment and possible resentment from colleagues as a consequence

+ having to prove themselves more than others

+ being responsible for all of Islam

+ inclusion, representation, and company loyalty; supportive and accommodating allies

Downplaying Discrimination

Regardless of the degree of Islamophobia in the workplace, most participants downplayed their experiences altogether and were hesitant to label incidents as Islamophobic or discriminatory. In fact, many participants began their interviews by stating, “I’m not sure if this counts as Islamophobia” or “I don’t want to complain because other Muslims have it worse.” This became a major theme throughout the virtual interviews.

Many compared their own experiences to other people’s more severe Islamophobic encounters and a pattern of dismissing or minimizing personal Islamophobic incidents was observed across interviews. Other studies 67 that examine racialized groups’ experiences with discrimination have found that they similarly tend to downplay their own personal experiences. This finding was also revealed in IRC’s earlier report, ‘In Their Own Words’ (2021).

As IRC has noted previously, it is clear that hatred and discrimination has become so routine in Canada that a proportion of Muslims feel these experiences are simply to be expected while living as a religious minority in Canadian society.

MUSLIMS AT THE MARGINS: ISLAMOPHOBIA AND EMPLOYMENT 27
We fail to understand that no Islamophobic incident can be considered ‘too small,’ because Islamophobia is a continuum of aggression and hatred with every incident — big or ostensibly small — emboldening the next . Accepting any form of intolerance — no matter how insignificant one might think it is — legitimizes later incidents and fertilizes a culture for hatred to foster and grow.
67 Allen, J. T. (2021). A study of Arab and South Asian American men with immigrant-family origins in new-immigrant destinations.

Workplace Discrimination

Most participants had experienced Islamophobia in the workplace in some capacity. Following the survey results, some participants, such as non-visible Muslims, seemed to experience Islamophobia to a lesser extent, while others, especially women who wear the hijab, and those not born in Canada, experienced Islamophobia more frequently and in more direct ways.

For instance, one participant recalled a co-worker saying, “don’t wear the hijab next time you come to work,” and asking “why do you bother dying your hair if you wear a hijab?”

Others had less obvious experiences of Islamophobia such as clients being rude or giving them looks of displeasure.

The experience was more severe for women, as many felt discriminated against, especially those wearing the hijab at job interviews. Wearing the hijab made co-workers feel defensive

and was seen as an invitation for questions about Islam. The difficulty for individuals when encountering questions about Islam at work is that even well meaning, genuinely curious questions can easily be tainted by earlier experiences of hostile lines of questioning. The only way beyond this is for coworkers to actively build an atmosphere of trust and inclusivity as best possible. However, throughout the interviews, it was evident that a great deal of the questions and discussions around Islam that co-workers engaged in were not well intentioned and borne out of curiosity.

On occasions, participants did not feel they were in a position to provide these co-workers with the education they needed — or sometimes demanded. These questions exhausted participants — especially those who wear the hijab — and made them feel like they were being seen and treated as the voice of Islam or representative of all Muslims.

When asked if they reported their incidents of Islamophobia to their superiors, most did not because they did not consider the offenses serious enough or they were not sure if those responsible for the incident(s) would be reprimanded. Others experienced Islamophobic remarks from their line managers and superiors themselves.

As one visibly-Muslim woman recalled, “[my supervisor said] I never thought you would have anything valuable to contribute until I heard you speak.” When superiors engage in Islamophobia, it further complicates an already delicate situation. Participants did not have a clear avenue to voice their complaints.

Islamophobia, Hatred and the Hijab

Throughout this report, we see that visibly Muslim women are bearing the brunt of Islamophobia. In Canada, we have several laws that have been accused of being discriminatory, including the federal Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act (2015), 68 Quebec’s Bill 62 (2017), 69 and more recently, Bill 21 (2019).70

All of these laws target Muslim women, perpetuating Orientalist images of Muslim women as ‘oppressed’ and in need of ‘saving’ from the State. These laws and their related discussions71 demonize the hijab and/or the niqab and actively encourage their prohibition. As a result, many visibly Muslim women in Canada — those that wear the hijab and/or niqab — are disproportionately experiencing anti-Muslim violence.

“I’m tired of being harassed over my hijab.”

“During an internship, one of the plant workers was trying to convince me that I didn’t need to wear the hijab as ‘I’m no longer back home.’”

“When I was asked to repeat something at work, I was met with a line of questioning ‘if my hijab made it hard to hear.’”

“I was told to go back to my country as I wore a hijab.”

“During an interview to access an internal job posting, they told me: ‘It will be difficult for you to be in this post because you have to supervise men and because you are a Black Muslim woman who is veiled.’”

“I was fired for wearing a hijab. Customers also told me to go back to my country and refused to let me check them in when I worked the front desk.”

“Most of the time I am being ostracized at work because I wear the hijab.”

“My religious symbol, my hijab, makes people think of me as an extremist and someone who is incapable of understanding ‘normal’ people. I feel like my hijab makes people look at me as a ‘Muslim’ instead of a person.”

“I was the only woman who wore a hijab at a huge company. Most of the employees stopped talking to me. Someone even asked why I was wearing a scarf on my head. I felt segregated and isolated from everyone.”

“People are always surprised when I tell them my occupation/role. Or once I tell them, they are suddenly taken aback and treat me way more respectfully as though before they wouldn’t give a woman wearing a hijab an average level of respect.”

“I have been fired. I have been mistreated by 90% of customers. I’ve been asked if my hijab will ‘affect my quality of work’ or told it ‘will get in the way’ of my work.”

“When I prepare myself for an interview, I always ask myself the question as to whether my veil will be a hindrance… often the look of the interviewers is eloquent enough so that even if they don’t say it, you know you won’t be selected because of it [the veil.]”

“When I was working remotely, people were friendly, no one saw each other, so communication was fine. But when I went into work, they saw a hijabi; the interactions were awkward. When coworkers were all going out as an example no one bothered to ask me if I wanted to go.”

“When I worked in retail back when I was a student and wore a hijab, I faced a lot of discrimination. You should have seen the look on the HR reps face when I walked in for an interview, both at Gap and Guess. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.”

68 Prohibits early and forced marriage, polygamy or other types of barbaric cultural practices. https://www.canada.ca/en/news/archive/2014/11/zerotolerance-barbaric-cultural-practices-act-overview.html.

69 Bans any person receiving government services (including schooling, daycare, or bus rides) from wearing face coverings.

70 https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Religion/Islamophobia-AntiMuslim/Civil%20Society%20or%20Individuals/Noor-ICLMG-ISSA.pdf

71 https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-barbaric-cultural-practices-law-1.3254118

Having to Go Above and Beyond in the Workplace

Another common theme was the need for participants to prove themselves more than others as workers; this was especially true for women wearing the hijab. In general, many visibly Muslim women felt they had to ‘compensate’ for being different and needing religious accommodation — by being better than others in their work performance. One participant shared,

“I had to work harder to distinguish myself from others so that I could be taken seriously in my field. I worked harder in university, tried to gain experience and make connections. I knew that I would need some religious accommodations when I entered the labour market (like for prayers and Fridays off for a few hours,) so why would employers want to hire me over someone who doesn’t need accommodations? I had to bulk up my resume to make it worth their while.”

Through the interviews, most visibly Muslim women reported not being taken seriously or not being considered experts in the workplace. They had to work tirelessly to demonstrate their worth because people assumed they did not possess the knowledge or skills required to succeed.

Some of the women spoke about male co-workers talking over them, coopting their projects, and not taking their ideas or feedback seriously. This made participants work harder in order to prove their value in the workplace — but often under undue pressure to perform. As one woman remarked, “I must put in more effort (than non-Muslims). I don’t have the right to make mistakes; there is no room for error.”

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72 Verdonk et al., 2020
This dynamic creates a paradox in which women who wear the hijab are both hypervisible (due to their hijab) and invisible (not treated or seen as competent workers, but rather as passive and voiceless because of their hijab.) 72 As one participant expressed, “they see me, but they don’t see me.”

Inclusion and Accommodations Matter

When asked about religious accommodations, most participants did not have any formal arrangements in place, they simply managed to find ways to practice their religion discreetly or informally. Some were able to get away to pray, found a quiet room, or scheduled their breaks around their praying obligations.

It became clear that participants did not request formal religious accommodations to avoid being seen as receiving special treatment, or being considered an employee that “asks for too much.” Observations indicated that participants did not want special treatment, as it often exacerbated the difference between themselves and their co-workers. One participant stated that she “didn’t feel comfortable asking for accommodations and didn’t want to be too needy.”

Conversely, there were several participants that had no issues seeking religious accommodations, but most of these participants had more prestigious and powerful positions allowing them the time and space to practice their religion with minimal supervision.

One such participant stated, “ they let me pray, and give me flexibility as long as I get my work done. Most facilities are

equipped with a prayer room. All these accommodations are dependent on your leadership or boss, and also your role. If you’re in a management position, you’ll receive more accommodations.”

Having a supportive and accommodating superior/manager/ team can make a big difference in the lives of Muslims. Although it is an encouraging sign that superiors are often granting Muslim participants religious accommodations, the lack of formal arrangements can leave them in precarious positions. For instance, one of the participants that was interviewed mentioned that if her current boss were to leave the company or switch positions, she would lose her religious accommodations and would have to start from scratch.

Participants indicated that receiving religious accommodations created a sense of loyalty to the company, fostered a feeling of inclusion, made them feel like “part of the team,” and encouraged them to do a better job because they enjoyed and appreciated their workplace. They also spoke about how receiving accommodations builds their confidence; they no longer feel insecure, uneasy, and even nervous about their position in the workplace.

When working with other Muslims in the workplace, participants felt less alienated and ostracized, and more at ease by their presence. This was echoed by most, if not all participants in the interviews. Representation and inclusion matter. Many stated that when they felt included in the workplace culture, and had a diverse workplace, they had an incentive to remain employed and were more likely to work for the organization long-term. This builds trust in the workplace and fosters a harmonious working environment for employees.

The final theme discovered in the interviews was that of supportive and accommodating allies in the workplace. Participants voiced that having a supportive, and accommodating superior/manager/ team makes a big difference in the workplace. Having coworkers and superiors that show respect and are accepting of their Muslim identity was linked to higher job satisfaction. Working in a safe, supportive environment significantly impacted their workplace experience and overall quality of life. Having allies in the workplace was an enriching experience for participants, especially since many of them reported feeling alone.

Moving Forward, Together

“I didn’t really have that many friends that were Muslim for a really long time. It helps because you have people who understand what you’re going through. It makes a big difference to have that support and friendship.”

“A lot of the time people and workplaces don’t know how to make those [religious] accommodations. If we just sit idly by and expect them to magically learn one day, it won’t happen. We can empower people to feel like they can ask without having any negative consequences or repercussions. We’re trying to think of creative ways — even policy-wise — to see those changes in the workplace, so that everyone across the board feels like they can receive accommodations.”

“I feel like representation is so important, like I can’t even explain why it’s important, because it’s so important. When I was working for a marketing department we

would be over the moon when we featured a hijabi girl on the Instagram page. It was like ground-breaking. You know? So yeah, just like seeing those faces can make somebody feel comfortable. We’re getting there.”

“Representation, I think that matters so much. When I think back to my career, I think of the places where I had the most amount of support and where I could see diversity in leadership. That doesn’t have to mean they look like me. It just means that people have various experiences and we can all benefit from that.”

“I’ve learned that not all ignorant questions about Islam are based out of malice or ill intent. I no longer let these interactions really cloud my view. So, while I was disappointed, I feel like they come from a lack of interactions with people that look like me.”

“I’m really glad that we’re talking about Islamophobia. I think this is long overdue. I just wanted to share my experience because I felt this ten years ago. I’m glad that it’s 2022 and we’re talking about it and making progress.”

“It’s all about diversity, you know, trying to create that culture of openness, and accepting that we’re all different. We’re all part of a team, and we have to work together as a team, and sometimes, if we don’t agree on things, then we need to talk about it and address it. That’s the only way we can move forward.”

“I am unapologetically Muslim and that won’t change.”

Eradicating Systemic Islamophobia: Recommendations for Meaningful Change

Findings from this report confirm that Muslims in Canada are experiencing Islamophobia in the workplace. Yet despite this unsettling reality, Muslim Canadians remain a resilient, strong, and determined group of people. There are a number of steps that can — and must — be taken by both governments and employers to eradicate Islamophobia in the workplace and in the process of gaining meaningful employment.

Below is a list of recommendations based on the lived experiences of Canadian Muslims who were surveyed and interviewed across the country.

Recommendations for Governments:

1. Federal, provincial and municipal governments must launch public awareness campaigns that humanize Canadian Muslims as valued members of society to combat and correct stereotypes and depictions surrounding Muslims.

Campaigns humanizing Muslims and depicting them as valued members of society are required to bring about a shift in culture. The development of public awareness campaigns and educational campaigns promoting media literacy is needed, as well as educational materials that cover different religious and cultural practices. We must remove the culture of fear and replace it with one of acceptance and inclusion.

2. Advocate for the eradication of overtly Islamophobic legislation, such as Bill 21.

Islamophobic policies such as Bill 21 must be removed immediately if genuine change is to occur. When governments appear to be encouraging discriminatory practices it sends a message to the wider population that this type of behaviour is tolerated and acceptable. As seen in our results, the majority of Muslims in Quebec believe that Bill 21 has had an impact on other workplaces, outside of its jurisdiction. Therefore, private sector organizations may be engaging in Islamophobia practices; if the government itself is passing Islamophobia laws, private sectors will likely be influenced. It is up to our governments and the highest institutions in society to set an example for Canadians. Islamophobic policies have no place in our society, and we urge other provinces and the federal government to intervene.

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Recommendations for Governments: cont’d

3. Federal and provincial governments must invest more resources into understanding the causes of discrimination and systemic barriers that Muslim workers continue to face within the labour market, with an emphasis on intersectional identities.

Supporting Muslims requires funding for dedicated research that aims to understand the experiences of discrimination and needs of this population — especially visibly Muslim women and Quebeckers. More research that collects and analyzes a variety of data on this topic is urgently needed in Canada. Social policy and educational measures are advocated for and created when informed by the lived experiences of citizens.

4. As per the federal government’s Anti-Racism Strategy, move quickly to fill the appointment of a Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia.

We call on the federal government to move quickly to appoint a special representative to continue the federal government’s work through Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy to tackle Islamophobia in all its forms. Sending a clear message to all Canadians that our nation does not tolerate religious hate and violence against Muslims is essential.

Recommendations for Workplaces:

5. Publicize and share information on the formal avenues through which religious accommodations can be attained in the workplace. The formal process of requesting religious accommodations should be easy, comfortable, and accessible for employees.

Since most of the participants in the interviews expressed having informal religious accommodations, organizations are encouraged to publicize and share information on the formal avenues through which religious accommodations can be attained. Some employees may not be aware of the accommodations available to them, and it is possible that managers and those in positions of authority are likewise unaware of certain aspects of religious accommodation. The formal process of requesting religious accommodations should be easy, comfortable, and accessible for employees.

6. Instill a workplace culture of inclusivity, where all employees are accommodated. For example, one where it is acceptable and common to network over non-alcoholic beverages, and at locations that are inclusive to all.

Workplaces should be inclusive of their employees. Instilling a workplace culture of inclusivity, where all employees are accommodated is essential for meaningful change. For example, one where it is acceptable and common to network over non-alcoholic beverages, and at locations that are inclusive to all. Dismantling these exclusionary practice can allow Muslims, women and employees who choose not to consume alcohol to still integrate into the workplace culture. It can also lead to the creation of more meaningful relationships with co-workers, as Muslims can partake in more workplace activities, social events, and networking. If Muslim can partake in more networking events, it will likely improve their career growth and professional development in the future - which also means additional resources for the company.

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Recommendations for Workplaces: cont’d

7. Advocate to make unions more inclusive and diverse by making leaders more representative of the population, and by reaching out to and supporting members from disadvantaged groups.

A push to make unions more inclusive and diverse is strongly recommended. Unionized Muslims reported feeling excluded and unrepresented in their unions, which prevented them from engaging and participating in union life. Unions have historically excluded certain groups, including women and racialized groups, but they continue to serve as an important function of the labour market by protecting employees from workplace exploitation and harm. We advise unions to become more diverse and inclusive, by making leaders more representative of the population, and by reaching out to and supporting members from disadvantaged groups.

8. Employers should strive for representation in their leadership roles and for a diverse workforce.

Institutional policies must create safe and inclusive working environments. Employers should strive for representation in leadership roles, within a diverse workforce. Having Muslims, people of colour, and other disadvantaged group members, in positions of representation and power can create meaningful change in the culture of an organization. True and long-lasting change can be achieved through diversity and inclusion at all levels.

9. Build and support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to help create inclusive workplaces.

Although representation is important, employees must be seen, heard, and included, to live up to their full potential. Building and supporting ERGs is a way for employers to foster a sense of belonging among workers. ERGs, often comprising individuals from historically disadvantaged groups, are a safe space where employees can share experiences, information, and resources in supportive environments.

10. Implement structures in the workplace that allow Muslims to discuss, report and address experiences of Islamophobia safely, confidentially, and without fear of repercussions.

Institutions must have structures that allow Muslims to address and report experiences of Islamophobia safely and without fear of repercussions. The creation of policies, procedures, and/or a system to report these types of incidents — safely and confidently — is recommended.

11. Offer targeted and tailored diversity and inclusion training to educate the workforce on conscious and unconscious biases — including misconceptions of Islam and the hijab.

Equity and diversity training initiatives within organizations should specifically address misconceptions around Islam and the hijab. Harmful stereotypes perpetuate implicit and explicit bias toward Muslims, and these stereotypes must be tackled to enable meaningful change in workplace culture. Allyship and support is needed from Canadians to listen, value and amplify the voices of Muslims, especially those who are hyper-marginalized based on their social location. This requires co-workers and leaders to create supportive and safe environments that clearly promote and advocate for anti-Islamophobic policies and practices.

Furthermore, organizations should examine the degree to which religion is explicitly mentioned in existing policies and procedures. Most organizations have overarching policies73 that cover a broad range of discrimination. Adding a religion component to anti-discrimination training, with a special focus on Islam could be beneficial.

MUSLIMS AT THE MARGINS: ISLAMOPHOBIA AND EMPLOYMENT 35
73 Anti-racism policies are becoming more common.

We must continue to work on building a more consciously inclusive country. Together, we can bring about change.

Annex: Demographic Breakdown of Survey Participants

Most participants identified as female, 64.55%, while 34.83% identified as male.

Although the survey was open to all Canadians, the majority resided in Ontario (71.52%), Alberta (10.49%), Quebec (7.28%), and British Columbia (6.42%). The remaining 4.26% resided in the rest of Canada.

Over half of the participants, 58.36%, were of South Asian origins (e.g., Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani), while 22.76%, were of Middle Eastern and North African origins (e.g., Lebanese, Iranian, Moroccan). Remaining participants were of African origins (e.g., Nigerian, Ethiopian, South African) at 10.53%, European origins (e.g., British, German, Russian) at 4.18%, and of Central Asian origins (e.g., Afghan, Kazakh, Turkish) at 3.41%.

The majority of participants were married, while a large minority were single or never married. Most did not have any dependent children under their financial and physical care. Regarding levels of education, 72.60% had a university undergraduate degree or higher, making our sample of Muslims highly educated.

Many participants, 46.28%, were Canadian citizens by naturalization, while 38.08% were Canadian citizens by birth. The remaining were landed immigrants/permanent residents (10.53%), or had immigrant work/student permits (2.17%).

Most participants self-identified their skin colour as dark brown/brown (30.80%), medium (24.92%), olive (18.27%), or fair (14.09%). Few participants in the survey self-identified as having dark brown (4.33%) or black (2.94%) skin colour

They had a wide range of individual annual incomes. A small minority, 23.22%, were earning less than $25,000, followed closely by 20.11% earning over $100,000. 19.97% were earning $25,000 to less than $50,000, 19.35% were earning $50,000 to less than $75,000, while 17.34% were earning $75,000 to less than $100,000.

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38 ISLAMIC RELIEF CANADA
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