This November marks the 10th anniversary of Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM), a campaign co-founded by MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) a not-for-profit organisation championing the inclusion of British Muslims in mainstream media and politics.
IAM is intended to deconstruct and challenge harmful stereotypes and predispositions about Islam, and Muslims. Religiously motivated hate crimes against Muslims rose by a third in the last year, according to statistics reported by the AA News Broadcasting System. The House of Commons Library Hate Crime Statistics reveal Muslim (or those perceived as Muslim) adults are the most likely target for religiously motivated hate crimes, by a long stretch.
The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of religion or belief, and employers must be alive to ensuring they do not fall foul of this legislation.
However, it is important for all employers, not just those with Muslim employees, to understand what IAM is and to consider ways in which it can incorporate and celebrate IAM within the workplace to encourage a tolerant and inclusive workforce. By actively celebrating IAM, as well as other events or dates relevant to culture and of significance historically, employers can genuinely understand, respond to and encourage the need for inclusion and belonging to foster a sustainable, tolerant and diverse working culture.
The primary focus of IAM is to raise awareness of the barriers faced by British Muslims across all aspect of public life, break down and challenge those barriers, and celebrate the positive contributions of British Muslims in the UK.
The aim of IAM this month, to mark its first decade, is to celebrate the achievements and milestones of the campaign in the past 10 years.
The theme of IAM is #tacklingdenial – this includes the denial of Islamophobia in the workplace, as well as the denial of discrimination or harmful (and often unconscious) misconceptions about Muslims and the Islamic community.
The official IAM website (IAM2022 (islamophobia-awareness.org)) sets out various ways for employers and organisations to engage with the campaign this year. We have summarised some of our own suggestions for employers below, and depending on the size of the business, ways of celebrating IAM could include:
– Circulating IAM’s promotional material around the workforce – this could instigate a conversation into what IAM is, what it means, and the reasoning behind it.
– Encourage an employee to share their story – this could be either a Muslim employee who can showcase their own experiences, or a non-Muslim employee. The focus of IAM is to challenge and deconstruct harmful stereotypes, so any topic of conversation could be centred around the stereotypes faced by the employee and/or on education and raising awareness of the misconceptions surrounding Muslims. It is important for employers to ensure that they encourage employees to take part and share their experiences, rather than expect them to (by virtue of the fact thatthe employee in question is Muslim). This could otherwise prove uncomfortable for the employee.
– Getting involved in IAM – either by downloading resources from the official website, engaging in events (led by speakers, perhaps), or becoming a supporter of the campaign.
– Hosting an event (which could be advertised via IAM) – the event could, in theory, be anything and employees could be encouraged to brainstorm ideas and assist in organising said event.
– Supporting Muslim owned businesses – be it socially or generally. One way to do this could be to host an office themed takeaway evening, with the food being provided by a Muslim owned business or a team-based cooking class, with a Muslim chef/organisation.
– Encouraging Muslim employees to dictate what they feel comfortable discussing and how they feel comfortable celebrating IAM within the organisation when considering how best to celebrate.
The above list is non-exhaustive and there are ways in which employers can effect meaningful systemic change, beyond the confines of the campaign being remembered once a year. Mandatory ethnicity pay-gap reporting, Muslim focused support groups or networks, the promotion and provision of internal training, and a public action plan on tackling unconscious bias towards Muslims are all long term and potentially meaningful ways of effecting positive change within the workplace and in accordance with the real aims behind IAM.
For any further advice, do not hesitate to contact our specialist employment team: firstname.lastname@example.org.