Discrimination Against Muslims Doesn’t End at the Border—It Extends to the Workplace

A new study highlights the barriers to gaining employment in France.

A man holds a placard during a demonstration of Muslims speaking out against terrorism in Rome on Nov. 21, 2015. (Photo: Gabriel Bouys/Getty Images)

Nov 24, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

From crossing the Mediterranean Sea to finding shelter while many countries seek to close their borders, the challenges faced by Syrian refugees are numerous—and sometimes deadly. If refugees do make it safely to the United States or Europe, the process of resettlement is far from easy, as one Bosnian refugee detailed on Twitter last week. But finding employment poses its own set of challenges, according to new research that shows discrimination against Muslims in French workplaces was already pervasive prior to the attacks in Paris—and it can occur even before applicants ever step foot in the office.

Marie-Anne Valfort, an associate member of the Paris School of Economics, partnered with the independent think tank Institut Montaigne to prepare and submit more than 6,000 résumés to employers nationwide over the course of a year, ending last September. Save for their religious affiliations, the fictional candidates were nearly identical: All were 25-year-old French citizens who immigrated from Lebanon, had completed high school with honors, and had mastered multiple software programs required for their field of bookkeeping.

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But of the candidates who were identified as Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim, either by their name or career or educational affiliation, those who presented as Muslims were the least likely to get called back by recruiters, Valfort found. Muslim applicants named Mohammed, for example, were contacted by employers just 10.4 percent of the time, or at exactly half the rate of Catholic candidates named Michel, who received callbacks 20.8 percent of the time. Jewish candidates called Dov fell somewhere in the middle, with a callback rate of 15.8 percent.

When Valfort separated her findings by gender, she discovered that Muslim men suffered the highest level of employment discrimination among companies of every size in France, faring the worst of any group. They had to send out four times as many résumés as their Catholic counterparts to get one callback from recruiters.

The study comes less than two weeks after the terrorist group ISIS, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq and uses an extremist interpretation of Islamic law, took credit for a series of coordinated attacks that killed 130 people and injured nearly 200 others.

Muslims have increasingly become the topic of political debate and bombastic rhetoric, both in Europe and the United States, in the wake of the attacks and amid the ongoing refugee crisis in which 4 million Syrians—a majority of them under the age of 18—have fled their home country seeking asylum.

On Tuesday, Sweden announced it would tighten its borders on the heels of restrictions announced last week in four Balkan countries that left about 1,000 people stranded at borders, the United Nations reported. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week warned against what he called “misplaced suspicions,” particularly about Muslim refugees and migrants, criticizing countries that have restricted their borders. On Thursday, U.S. House Republicans voted to restrict Syrian refugees’ resettlement. The legislation goes before the Senate after Thanksgiving, and the president has vowed to veto.

Addressing the issue of discrimination and anti-Muslim bias, Valfort said, is imperative considering the Muslim population in Europe has been steadily increasing, accounting for 7.5 percent of France’s overall population—the second-highest proportion of Muslims in Europe after Russia—according to Pew Research Center’s most recent estimates. At the same time, more than a quarter of French citizens surveyed by Pew Research Center last year said they had an unfavorable view of Muslims. In some countries, such as Italy, Greece, and Poland, at least half the population answered that way.

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One factor that shifted the study’s results, leading to more interest from employers, was whether or not the Muslim applicants presented as secular. For example, when candidates listed Girl and Boy Scouts of France as a former employer rather than Muslim Scouts of France, their callback rates were roughly equal to those of practicing Catholic men. However, Muslim male candidates gained no advantage over their Catholic counterparts; surprisingly, it decreased their odds of getting a callback from employers.

Anti-Muslim bias in the workplace isn’t a problem unique to Europe. A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University in 2013 found that employers in most Republican states in the U.S. were less likely to interview job applicants when their social media profile suggested they were Muslim.