Navigating Unconscious Bias in the Workplace From the Viewpoint of a Muslim Woman: Part II

As a hijab-clad Muslim woman, the invisibility cloak is easily imposed upon you, no matter how hard you try to chitchat, the conversation is cut short.

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As a hijab-clad Muslim woman, the invisibility cloak is easily imposed upon you, no matter how hard you try to chitchat, the conversation is cut short.

Part 2: Hollow Hypocrisies

When you visit LinkedIn and Google the people you work with, often in positions of seniority, and you see them talk about inclusivity and diversity, heck even run for a political positions, it becomes very difficult to match the inconsistencies you have experienced from that person’s actions against what they’re manifesting themselves as in the public eye. 

I remember how one time in a job, the white women in the office were gushing over Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. They were fan girling hard yet when I tried pitching into the conversation, I was ignored. Yet those same women shared anger that Meghan Markle had ruined the Royal Family.

When the Christchurch massacre took place, I remember the silence in the office at a time when my heart was scared and broken. When I spoke about it, I got mutters and a swift change of topic when I brought it up. But it was okay for colleagues to awkwardly ask me if I knew Shamima Begum or her family, whilst other colleagues peered over their desks waiting for my response.

The infamous networking sessions are another such example of just blatant hypocrisies. As a hijab-clad Muslim woman, the invisibility cloak is easily imposed upon you, no matter how hard you try to chitchat, the conversation is cut short. (Unless the old white men have a freakish obsession with Muslim women of course). Meanwhile, the directors leer over their wine glasses guffawing, balding, standing a bit too close to female employees that are their daughters’ age.

Then of course the next day it’s the whole spiel about, “You never come to the networking events, it’s very important to get out there!” The fickleness is a little bit sickening as you slowly start to realise how unchecked people’s bias and common sense is. And why wouldn’t it be? They’ve never had to challenge it.

In my workplaces, I have found that I was often having meetings with directors, in addition to meetings with my line manager. (No one else in my position seemed to). My line managers would not tell me much about my progression or feedback in a way that matched what the directors would say. My line managers fundamentally couldn’t relate to me. I remember how much my line manager in one of my workplaces would stare aimlessly at my hijab. And her approach to me was always awkward whereas with others she managed, they’d have their meetings at coffee shops/over lunch.

Things like celebrating everyone’s birthday but completely forgetting mine (they were all on the shared staff calendar) and being ignored in the office whenever I’d make a contribution to the office chat. I nicknamed myself the ghost because at one point, I actually began to think they could not see me. 

I began to see the vast chasm of how differently white middle class alienation could take place. It was hollow. I also experienced white working class cowardice in some folks who have worked up the rungs of the ladder. There was this dysfunctional layer of complexities and insecurities, which rendered them hopeless supporters, as they would often be the ones to crap on you with little decorum. They operate under a guide of scarcity mentality which makes them constantly jittery, trying too hard and scared they’ll lose their jobs. They’re quick to say things like they’re colour blind, have more in common with you than their white elite colleague… but when the going gets tough, they are deadly silent when it matters the most.

I’ve dealt with other such examples in the form of white male seniors and colleagues in the workplace and their special attention towards me. The usual things like calling me out more harshly than other employees. I’ve had to have mediation with white male managers, sitting in front of them whilst explaining how its not okay that they’ve acted towards me in a way that is not only sexist but also reeking of racism.

Why having specific rules just for me and not for any other employee was unacceptable. Why monitoring how long my breaks were, monitoring my calendar activities and monitoring my computer screen (in an open office space) is not acceptable – unless I was suspected of gross misconduct – which I have never come close to. Or when asking managers if our one to ones could be confidential as I had confidential concerns to share, the response was, ‘’Let me check and get back to you on that.”  

And with colleagues, I would sit in awe at how female white colleagues would champion feminism but when I once said how feminism in the workplace is a bit further down my priority list as race/Islamaphobia has impacted me more, there was tumbleweed silence and swift moving on. The tumbleweed silence becomes helplessly entertaining after a while.

I started to learn how men and women, in positions of power through only privilege and little credibility or creativity or dynamism to lead, could be found everywhere. But when they also are closet racist, sexist and incompetent, then their wrath and insecurities become heightened around intelligent non-white women.

Read Part I here.

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