Muslim women wearing headscarfs face job discrimination

May 30, 2013  |   |  3 Comments
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A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Shidler College of Business MBA student wearing a hijab (headscarf).

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Shidler College of Business MBA student wearing a hijab (headscarf).

Assistant Professor Sonia Ghumman from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Shidler College of Business found that Hijabis (Muslim women who wear headscarfs) encountered discrimination when seeking employment. Ghumman and her co-researcher Ann Marie Ryan of Michigan State University outlines their findings in the May 2013 issue of Human Relations.

“We conducted a field experiment to investigate the extent to which individuals wearing religious attire encounter discrimination during the hiring process,” said Ghumman. “We asked students (ages 19–22) from several ethnic backgrounds to seek employment with and without the hijab (headscarf) at retail stores and restaurants in two shopping malls. The malls were located primarily in middle-income cities in the Midwest. The job seekers were paired with an observer and yielded a total of 112 trials.”

The study measured:

  • formal discrimination, marked by explicit negative behaviors such as outright refusal;
  • interpersonal discrimination, a more subtle expression of discrimination both in nonverbal and verbal behaviors;
  • expectations to receive job offers.
Sonia Ghumman headshot

Sonia Ghumman

According to Ghumman, the findings revealed that wearing a hijab had a negative impact in all aspects of the hiring process compared to Muslim women who did not wear a hijab. The field experiment tracked several areas of the hiring process, including the permission to complete job applications, job availability, job call backs, interaction time, and perceived negativity and lack of interest by the employer.

The study also found that Hijabis had lower expectations of receiving job offers than Muslim women who did not wear the hijab, and that Hijabis were more likely to be hired by organizations with high employee diversity.

According to Ghumman, out of all of the religious symbols and clothes, the hijab is one of the most visual identifiers of Islam, yet Hijabis remain an understudied group in the U.S. when it comes to workplace discrimination. These findings give practical value to recruitment agencies, organizations and Hijabis seeking employment, and helps in the training of individuals who have contact with such job applicants.

This is Ghumman’s second study related to Hijabis in the workplace. Her previous research, “The downside of religious attire: The Muslim headscarf and expectations of obtaining employment,” looked at several variables that may contribute to the lack of employment opportunities for Hijabis.

A Shidler College of Business news release.

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Category: Research

Comments (3)

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  1. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry says:

    But are these truly ‘religious’ head-scarfs…or ‘ADA’ head-scarfs…or–

    We used to see women, decades ago, wearing head-scarfs in windy weather… Perhaps the discrimination is that the Applicant seems willfully refusing to remove a head covering (In banks for example it’s forbidden to wear)… Would it be different if the female Applicant wore a Sunday Hat, indoors, to the Interview? (Used to be common in churches; a religious expression.)

    Generally job Applicants would seem capable of avoiding wearing any ‘not-this-job’ identifier-tag articles: Business clothes are in, Trinkets are out (little-jewels may be in, big jewels may be out), doggy-do tees are…

  2. Michael Mueller says:

    Thanks you Sonja for your scientific prove that adaptation to societies’ conventions improves personal success.
    Please help me understand the difference between discrimination and job assessment.
    Would it be discrimination if, as an employer, I decided that a candidate is more suitable for the job if s/he does not belong to a group of choice and openly displaying their group’s symbols (like a gang member for example)?

    • Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry says:

      [Are we speaking of Islamic indicators and not just Muslim attire?]

      Read your List of disallowed organizations (might be federal only), though unfortunately, the federal government does not soft-classify Islam as problematic, (the List last-I-saw was only hard-problems): Certain ‘organizations’ -domestic or foreign- are banned business– You do not want to be in the same room, On the telephone-with, Etc.

      The soft-problem with Islam is you do not want it harder by hiring:

      Try think of it this way: Your daughter applies for work at a place that does money-laundering, taking-of-usury, tax-evasion, you don’t like because it’s bad business, because Islam forbids it, Whatever, But they hire her anyway because “she’s got religion”–and so–they corrupt your sweetie-pie-daughter in the ways of “The Bad Company:” they put her in accounting to record all their money-manipulations.

      What–shall we say?

      The question now is: Is your daughter a renegade-muslim because she did, Or, because that employer is a nation of ‘infidel’ corruption?

      E.G. It was outright-laughable when President George W. Bush junior said that America would make loans to Iraq after ‘uprooting’ Saddam Hussein (they’d dug him out of a hole in the ground–like a plant), because Islam forbids the making of loans taking interest on money: Muslims are required by religious law to work–to earn their money. (Even the ‘filthy rich’ are require to work as corporate managers.)

      What can we say–? Muslims don’t want to be mean about it–but–you should recognize that you don’t have easy freedom to hire a muslim: especially if your company borrows money from stockholders…banks.

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