Islamophobia Awareness Month - how to create an inclusive workplace


Peter Alleyne, our Associate Director for Diversity, Inclusion and Race Equality has been looking to bring people from across our organisation to ask how can we do more to ensure we are as inclusive as possible for our members, beneficiaries and our staff.

In this blog, Sabah Gilani OBE, Chief Executive of Better Community Business Network and Chair of the Muslim Minds Collaborative, Hira Ali, Author and Writer on Race and Inclusion; and Claire Neal, Head of Workplace Mental Health, Mental Health UK work together to explore Islam, the barriers faced by the Muslim Community and how mental health providers can ensure services and workplaces can be inclusive spaces for all.

Islam, British Muslims and diversity

Islam is one of the major and fastest growing religions in the world, followed by around 1.8bn Muslims. Being Muslim in a workplace has its challenges and there are many barriers and stigma Muslims communities face with regards to mental health. In this blog, we explore some of those challenges faced by Muslim employees, given their unique faith-related needs that make it difficult to adapt to the values and orientation of the dominant work culture.

Good practice for employers - here is how you can help:

Build an inclusive culture in the workplace

Cultural stereotypes are damaging, and much of the anti-Muslim bias stems from misinformation & misunderstanding of the religion. For example, Muslim women can be portrayed as oppressed or threatening. Promoting cultural awareness and educating employees about what to expect can go a long way toward building an inclusive culture.

Design inclusive company events

Are dietary needs respectful of faith? Choose venues that serve non-alcoholic options, and cater to all types of nutritional requirements, including vegetarian, vegan/halal/kosher, and gluten-free. Most importantly, ensure that all food and drinks are correctly labelled.

Avoid faith stereotyping

Muslims come from various backgrounds, countries and ethnicities. They do not form a single homogenous group so they may not fit the mould society defines. For example, you can ask your female colleague how she prefers to be greeted or wait to see whether she extends her hand or offers a hug.

Create an inclusive schedule for employees with faith-related needs

Create an open discussion about various flexible options to support scheduling needs. Allocating a private prayer area alongside a separate restroom or sink to perform Wudu (ablution) helps Muslim employees feel included in the workplace. The prayer area can also be multipurpose and serve as a sanctuary for people of other beliefs. Ensuring flexible and reasonable accommodation in your organisation will enable employees to observe their religious obligations and improve their performance.

Offer compassion and support

Muslims in many countries are persecuted due to their religious identity and faith convictions. Hearing about this regularly can be unsettling and traumatic, as can news of Muslim-related terrorism. The latter can lead to a fear of being judged, labelled, blamed or being the victim of hate attacks or abuse, especially Muslim women wearing hijab. It’s essential to acknowledge when such events occur and reach out to Muslim colleagues to check their emotional well-being. This can make them feel seen and heard and reassures them that the organisation supports them.

Make sure the workplace is psychologically safe for everyone

Interpersonal prejudice and discrimination can lead to social exclusion and compromise psychological safety, preventing full engagement. Faith is an integral part of identity — avoiding or denying it prevents people from bringing their authentic selves to work. Provide Muslim colleagues with opportunities to be vulnerable and share their challenges in a safe space — one without fear of blame or accusations — that encourages open and candid conversations. If necessary, you can offer cultural and faith-sensitive support.

Look at all the data available

This includes staff surveys, absence data, turnover rates, exit interviews and accidents. Does it suggest that any particular groups are overly represented when it comes to job satisfaction, turnover or accidents at work? Does usage of your organisation’s support services (such as EAP, OH, MH Champions etc) represent the demographics of your employee population? It should do, and if not, why not? Seek advice and guidance from employee networks.

Have your managers received training in mental health awareness?

If they have, did the training include considerations of different demographics and their perceptions of mental health? Organisations have a duty of care to support all their employees and make reasonable adjustments where appropriate. Have you considered peer support groups to allow a safe space for peers to share their challenges and ways of supporting themselves/others.

Ensure that you listen to your staff

Are you communicating with your employee networks? Ask what it is like for them to work in the organisation – listen and respond to the answers.