Forbes journalist Rebekah Bastian spoke with Muslim corporate leaders to gain their insights on how to support Muslim employees in the workplace. Ms. Bastian makes the point, “As we work to create more equitable workplaces, we need to understand and support the needs of all identities that have been marginalized or underserved. Muslims are arguably one of the most misunderstood identities in the United States, and as such, their needs are often overlooked.”
Here are her findings:
1. Invest in Understanding
Much of the misunderstanding and mistreatment of Muslims stems from vastly uninformed perceptions of Islam. Many of those misunderstandings overlook the compassionate core of what Muslims believe. Mohammad Sarhan, senior director at Zillow, concurs with this sentiment: “At the end of the day, we believe the human being is sacred, and regardless of practices that clash with Islam, we still have a very high level of respect and love for our coworkers. Unfortunately, we often do not see the same level of respect and love in return.
2. Practice Inclusive Scheduling
One easy and meaningful way to be inclusive of Muslim employees is to be aware of their schedule needs. Many Muslims pray five times a day for short periods, and as many as three or four of those periods may fall during work hours. As Laila Almounaier, director at Expedia explains, “Providing a private area for prayer, along with a private restroom or sink to perform Wudu [washing performed before prayer] helps Muslim employees feel included and empowered in the workplace.”
Ramadan is another opportunity to support Muslim employees’ scheduling needs. During this month, Muslims are fasting from food and drink from dawn until dusk every day.
3. Respect Gender Boundaries
Islam promotes some guidelines for the ways men and women interact that are good for colleagues and managers to be aware of. Glenn Block, senior director at DocuSign, shares that “there are differing opinions on what is permissible, and Muslims will have different comfort zones. Some Muslim men and women may keep their gaze down, avoid shaking hands or refrain from mingling with a member of the opposite sex…”
4. Accommodate Dietary Needs
Most Muslims do not eat pork products or drink alcohol. Block explains that “having a vegetarian option is good, having a seafood option is better and having halal food on the menu is best.”
5. Show Compassion
Unfortunately, we see Muslims targeted by tragic events and discriminatory policies in the world around us. When such events occur, it is important to respond in a way that makes our Muslim colleagues feel seen and supported. “Saying to your Muslim co-workers that you are there for them and support them is one of the biggest things you can do that requires very little effort,” says Block. “I have been on the receiving end of this and as a Muslim, it really does feel good.”