News & Events

Tackling Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the Workplace with SHRM

As 2010 drew to a close, it was hard to avoid the signs of growing anti-Muslim sentiment – a steadily increasing (and unprecedented) rise in Muslim discrimination complaints to the EEOC , the continuing debate around the Park51 Cultural Center (also known as the “Ground Zero mosque”), and extremists like Pastor Terry Jones stealing the lime-light with shocking threats that carried weight across the globe. Looking ahead to the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, we felt it was time to address how anti-Muslim sentiment is affecting workplaces head-on.

We approached some of our close friends and experts who have worked in Human Resources and those who have experienced being Muslim in U.S. workplaces.  We agreed that making as many members of the human resources community aware of this timely matter was important. We reached out to Dr. Shirley Davis, Director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and asked if we could include a panel at the SHRM 2011 Annual Conference & Exposition in an effort to get HR and management looking at how they should proactively relieve tensions and support inclusivity even during such divisive times. Dr. Davis honored our request and included Tanenbaum’s panel in the impressive offerings of the conference.
The conference, which finished up its 63rd year last week, consistently provides HR professionals with easily-applied and important tools that can be used the moment they step back into their offices.
On Tuesday morning, Tanenbaum’s CEO Joyce Dubensky, moderated the panel discussion, entitled “Getting It Right: Understanding Current Dynamics of Religious Diversity in the Workplace.” Panelist Lobna Ismail, Founder & President of Connecting Cultures, spoke to the experience of being Muslim in the workplace, and the great impact anti-Muslim media images can have on the people coming to your offices every day. Eric Peterson, Manager, Diversity and Inclusion at SHRM, provided information about the practical resources that managers can use to inform themselves, inform their employees, and ultimately mediate those tensions. Finally, Mark Fowler, Tanenbaum’s Director of Programs, provided insight into some of our better practices around addressing this sensitive topic.
Over 40 people attended the session, and were extremely active and engaged in the conversation. Some questions from the audience included how to address those who think offices should operate under a Christian norm, and how to address issues around possible proselytizing.
While successful sessions like these leave us with hope that anti-Muslim sentiment will settle down in the United States, controversy and discrimination continue to show up in our workplaces. This past Monday, the EEOC filed a claim against Rent-A-Center for failing to accommodate a Christian employee’s needs. Unfortunately, religious discrimination in the workplace, across all traditions, is still a concern. However, proactively addressing these issues by debunking stereotypes and training managers and employees how to communicate respectfully can be a great place to start.  
To that end, Tanenbaum has joined Prepare New York, a coalition of New York based interfaith organizations. Tanenbaum has created some education materials to help you facilitate conversations around the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and address anti-Muslim conduct in workplaces overall. For more information, click here. We’ll also be hosting a webcast on August 4th in partnership with SHRM entitled “The 10th Anniversary of 9/11: Preparing for Diverse Reactions from a Diverse Workforce.” Stay tuned for details on registration.