Workplaces must make room for Muslim women – starting with our toxic drinking culture

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Imagine you’re in a room where everyone else is speaking a secret language that you don’t understand. You feel awkward and leave. For many Muslims, this is what attending a drinks-centred networking event can feel like and it’s damaging their career prospects.

Last night’s launch in parliament of Dr Suriyah Bi’s research into Muslim women’s experiences of work revealed that only 17 per cent of those who wished to enter the media industry actually did so after they graduated. Unsurprising, then, that only 0.4 per cent of all journalists are Muslim.

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Yet media is not the only profession where Muslim women feel they are being held back by being teetotal. 26-year-old trainee corporate lawyer *Maha Al-Habib tells me that drinking is the primary way her team socialises: “I feel my manager is closer to my colleague because she regularly joins them for Friday night drinks whereas I don’t. I’m worried that my career progression will be impacted if I don’t join staff at the pub.”

Maha’s concerns about her chances of promotion aren’t unsubstantiated. While over 84.2 per cent of British Muslim women were found to be actively engaged in the labour market, almost half of all participants in Dr Bi’s study were earning below the ONS’s average household income of £28,000. Maha’s decision to skip hanging out with her colleagues on Friday night is costing her the chance to rise to the 8 per cent of BME partners at large law firms.

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