11 Suggestions to Create a more Islam-friendly Workplace

Praying at the Cape Town International Airport (Jan 2019)

Does your organization have equity policies and practices to help you become a more welcoming, inclusive workplace? Do these policies and practices address how to be a faith-friendly workplace? With Ramadan just around the corner, now is an excellent time to revisit how your company/organization can support or become better at supporting faith identities, and though this is not an exhaustive list, here are eleven suggestions to become an organization that is more inclusive of Muslim employees.

Onboarding

Available at IKEA

  1. Within onboarding materials, indicate where in the office or within the building, meditation and reflection spaces are available. Ensure these spaces are near washroom facilities with taps that “stay on” so that employees can prepare for prayer easily. If the space is not within your office but within the building, have you personally checked that it is an appropriate, dignified space to meditate or pray? Is it close by? To create an office meditation space, you need little more than a  screen,  a clean space and a sign indicating the direction of the “Qibla”, (the direction that Muslims face when they pray) is located. (There are many apps that will help you do this, here is one Google resource). You may also want to put a couch in for all employees who just want a moment to rest and recuperate or to breastfeed, a plant for some green space and a rug for employees praying on the floor. Otherwise, this space does not need much else, does not need to be big and does not need religious iconography.

Staff appreciation/team bonding

  1. Before organizing staff socials, ensure that socials do not fall within Ramadan, or other significant times when Muslim staff may be fasting. In 2019, Ramadan will begin on Sunday May 5 and end on Tuesday June 4th, with some flexibility in those dates depending on when the moon is sighted.

  2. Consider how you may commemorate /acknowledge Eid and Ramadan for Muslim coworkers. Does this look like writing them/sending Muslim employees an email before Ramadan begins or right before Eid? You may not know everyone in your office/organization who is Muslim, so consider how you may celebrate Eid/send a message more broadly so that no one who doesn’t visibly “look Muslim” is missed. Christmas and Easter come with statutory holidays, but for other major religious holidays that are not recognized by your organizational calendar through public holidays, think about how you might celebrate/recognize holidays and other important times in your organization. 

Even if you have wished someone a good Ramadan or Eid (which can be done by saying Ramadan Mubarak, or Eid Mubarak, or a different greeting depending on culture/language background), know that everyone has a different relationship to their faith, and different reasons why they may or may not be fasting, so do not ask colleagues about why they are eating if you see them in the lunchroom. They may be unable to fast, they may not want to fast but still feel connected to the month, they may simply be feeling unwell that day – so strive to respect people’s privacy and religious autonomy by not asking.

3. Consider cultural norms or assumptions embedded in your team practices and moments of gathering. When you’re done a big project, do you say to your team “now we’re all ready for a big bottle of wine?” and thereby potentially alienate those who participated in the work but do not drink? Do you organize drinks at a local pub to mark milestone moments of success? What are other ways could you celebrate/talk about celebrating to ensure everyone is seen and included? This is important not only for employees who do not drink for religious reasons, but also for employees who are working through or have struggled through issues of addiction.

Time away/vacation

  1. Is there a clear policy in place that indicates whether staff members have access to time away for religious holidays? Is this up to the discretion of individual managers? Endeavour to have a clear policy in place to guide action, and let employees know that there is a policy in place, so that time away for religious holidays is consistent for all employees. SFU’s directive around religious accommodation is wonderful and can be found here.

       2. Talk to new employees that you are aware multiple prayers fall within working hours during  winter months and know that they may have to leave meetings or their desk for that reason. 

Meetings scheduling

  1. When scheduling a team retreat where you want full engagement of your team, check to make sure that your dates do not conflict with Ramadan. A full day in which breaks are scheduled to match the flow of sessions can be hard to participate in during Ramadan.

2. If you have a staff conference or a long day of planning, are breaks timed so that they can match prayer times? This is one site that allows you to search for prayer times for your city, but there are others.

Oversight

  1. Where do employees go when they are unsure about their religious rights in the workplace or experience discriminatory behaviour? Where do managers go if they make a mistake? Are there clear HR policies/guidelines that outline how to navigate different situations?  In onboarding materials and orientation to the workplace, talk about what resources are available when things are unclear.

Managerial support

  1. What is the training program for managers about faith? Can faith friendly training be made available in support structures/training programs for new managers?

Interpersonal relationships

  1. Speak to Muslims on your team when global or local Islamophobic actions/acts of terrorism  happen. If you are in a leadership position, when attacks happen, reach out and express your solidarity publicly (through an office-wide email for example) so that you do not miss any employees whose faith identity may be more hidden. But more broadly, this can mean checking in with employees and teammates to see if they are okay, offering/highlighting resources to help them process, or just letting them know that you are here for them. The individuals you reach out to may be dealing with a lot, and so it can be helpful to let them know that you do not expect a response to your message. To help strengthen the skills of individuals to laterally support incidents of Islamophobia at work and in the world, this illustrated guide is excellent.

Practices

  1. Open your calendar and schedule in religious holidays. It can help to download a calendar on religious holidays to make it something you see in your calendar, rather than having to remember to check if conflicts occur.
  2. Read the Canadian Labour Congress March 2019 report “Islamophobia at Work”. Page 47 onward has wonderful employer recommendations to fight Islamophobia and create a more faith friendly work environment.
  3. Talk to other organizations/teams within your organization about what is working well and what you are learning. Be a peer leader.

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