Dr. Lubna Aamir graduated from medical college in 2016. Since then, she has been trying to find a job as a dentist in Mumbai. Apart from contacting people online, she would go and physically hand over her resume to clinics. “I only got a few callbacks. Even amongst those, I did not get selected for the role,” said Aamir.
In one instance, while having a conversation with the owners of a private clinic in a posh area in Mumbai, Aamir felt she was just about to get the job. They then asked her if she would wear the hijab at work. “I said yes, as I am not comfortable removing my hijab,” she said.
She was soon informed that she would not be getting the job. “They told me that they like my work experience and profile, but the patients who come to their clinic would have a problem seeing a doctor working in a hijab. I was shocked, and I went into a spiral where I stopped applying for jobs,” she added.
“But as Muslims, this fear is always ingrained in us. I started wearing the hijab when I was 19. Since then, I have noticed how people’s attitudes changed toward me. So I am always skeptical when I am applying anywhere,” she said.
Recently, research conducted by the Led By foundation displayed a net discrimination rate of 47.1% between Hindu and Muslim women during the job hiring process. The research showed that for every positive response that a Muslim woman gets while applying for a job, a Hindu woman gets approximately two positive responses.
“We focused on this particular research because we found there was a gap in data when it comes to representation of Muslim women in the workforce,” said Dr. Ruha Shadab, the founder of Led By.
During the 10-month-long research period, the team at Led By sent out approximately 2,000 job applications for over 1,000 job postings. Applications were posted on job search sites like LinkedIn and Naukri.com with two dummy profiles, where one was Hindu (Priyanka Sharma) and the other was Muslim (Habiba Ali). The roles applied for included content writer, business development analyst and social media marketing specialist across industries. The goal was to find a net discrimination percentage by using the number of positive responses to both candidates. The researchers counted all responses that led to the next round of recruitment as positive. Additionally, the researchers also considered instances where companies found ‘Priyanka’ or ‘Habiba’ on LinkedIn and reached out as a positive response.
As a result, it was found that,
“Muslim women, and women, in general, are poorly represented in the labour force. Such a disparity demonstrates that there is a direct bias existing against Indian Muslim women in the hiring process. Muslim women, by virtue of a combination of lack of representation and historical marginalisation, are rarely seen as ‘providers’ and competent workers of the labour force. In their case, a general notion of women being incapable of working outside the home propounds with the negative stereotypes attached to being Muslim in India.”
“We also noticed the difference in the nature of responses to both these profiles. While Priyanka would get calls to convey her selections, Habiba would mostly get emails and messages,” said Shadab. According to her, recruiters were actively reaching out to Priyanka on her online profile and Habiba only had one recruiter who messaged her.
Saba Ahmed applied to over a hundred companies while job hunting. She soon realised the response rate for these applications was low. Even when she did give an interview, she was unable to clear it. “You’re overqualified for this role but we need to know if you wear a hijab,” Ahmed was told during the interview process of an international NGO. “If you wear a hijab, our respondents on the field will feel uncomfortable,” the team of an NGO working for women’s rights told her.
“For some reason, recruiters always ask me to do a video interview even after the entire application process has been done,” said Ahmed. “I don’t wear a hijab and the moment the video turns on, I can see that they’re relaxed and that I look ‘normal,’” she added. “I don’t look like a Muslim to them.”
Ahmed is usually also asked about her political ideology, her views on the ruling government, and if she is a short-tempered individual. “All these questions were very weird to me,” said the 30-year-old. “They also assumed that my family is very orthodox because I am Muslim and asked me if I would be allowed to move about for a job,” she added. Ahmed eventually contacted an HR consultancy to push her CV at a high fee. She has been working with a trade union for three years now where she is one of the two Muslim women employees.
The Led By research also focused on job postings in 20 different states, with a particular concentration in Delhi (198) and Maharashtra (148), likely due to the concentration of companies in these areas. These locations display a difference of 5% and 7.2%, respectively. Delhi shows a net discrimination rate of 24.8% only whereas Maharashtra displays 51.4%, closer to the average, but slightly higher.
Different regions also reflect different disparities, according to their data. The researchers saw a concentration of job applications in the North (400), West (221), and South (144) zones of India. Here, the difference in response rates is reasonably uniform across the board, with a 9.1%, 8.6%, and 9.6% difference in response rates. But, this translates to widely different net discrimination rates. In the case of North India, there is a net discrimination rate of 39.5%, whereas West and South India show 59.3% and 60%, respectively
“It crushes your confidence when you don’t get any leads because of your religious identity,” said Jamia Millia Islamia graduate Azba Rahman. “I wanted to be a writer – it was my passion – but I had to leave that because no one would hire me even after trying so many times,” she added.
“My parents always warned me that there is tough competition and it is highly likely I won’t get hired in the current scenario,” she said. “They made me aware that even after working hard, being a top student, and having work experience, I would have to struggle more,” Rehman added.
Rehman works as a social media strategist at Led By foundation, where she has also learned more about hiring biases against Muslim women and be able to identify what happened to her while job hunting as a young writer and Muslim woman. “If I was ever in Habiba’s shoes from the research, I would never apply to any workplace again after facing so many rejections,” the 22-year-old added.
Shreya Bansal is a social justice and investigative reporter based in Delhi.
Featured image: Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis