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Boards must take positive action to appoint Muslims

Boards must take positive action to appoint Muslims

🕔31.Aug 2017

The issue of Muslim participation in public life has been laid bare in a ground-breaking report by a Citizens Commission: Islam, Participation and Public Life, chaired by the former Attorney General, The Rt. Hon. Dominic Grieve, QC, MP. There should now be a concerted effort to ensure appointments are genuinely open and fair and public institutions must take positive action to appoint Muslims, writes Waheed Saleem. 

The report: Missing Muslims – Unlocking British Muslim Potential for the Benefit of All sets out the barriers to participation and makes some important recommendations on increasing the participation of Muslims.

The Muslim community is facing a considerable challenge in the UK and Europe. The increase in terrorist attacks by individuals, who purport to be carrying out these atrocious and barbaric attacks in the name of Islam, have tarnished the whole Muslim community.

These small number of people have managed to infect mainstream society’s perception of the majority of a law abiding and peaceful community, due in part to the negative media headlines and in some quarters the demonisation of the community by Governments and politicians, who once were on the fringes of the political discourse but have infected the mainstream political debate.

The recent stunt by the Leader of the right wing One Nation party Pauline Hanson in the Australian Senate, which was widely condemned, is an example of politicians being given a legitimate platform to utter their vial racist opinions. The election of Donald Trump as President of America, on a platform of demonising Muslims, including trying to impose a travel ban on people from Muslim countries, demonstrates the acceptability of demonising and targeting Muslims.

The Commission report sets out the untapped talent amongst the Muslim community that is going to waste due to prejudice, lack of opportunities and blatant discrimination by people in authority. The Muslim population in the UK is the fastest growing minority faith community, with the 2011 census putting the population at 2.71m, a rise from the 1.5m in 2001. Instead of seeing this positively, the mainstream British society sees this as a treat to the fabric of society. This is despite Muslim’s adding an estimated £31billion+ to the British economy.

However, this does not translate into representation in British public life. Thus, despite the increase in the number of Muslims MPs from four in 2005 to 15 in 2017, this is just 2% of MPs, lagging significantly below the Muslim population. In the Civil Service, just 1% are from a Muslim faith and this is even worse amongst the most senior Civil Servants at 0.6%. The same is the case in other areas, for example in the media only 0.4% of journalists are Muslims and the pattern repeats itself in the arts, law, accountancy, etc.

READ: Work in progress – few positives, widening divisons

There are over 800 Public Bodies, covering a range of different functions, for example Non-Departmental Public Bodies, Advisory Committees and NHS organisations controlling substantial budgets and affecting public policy. Yet none of these bodies have a Muslim chair and there are significantly small number of Non-Executive Directors. These appointments are made by Government Ministers, aided by Civil Servants, who are mostly white middle class and therefore tend to appoint in their own image.

Despite the Government’s rhetoric of increasing the diversity in public appointments, this has not translated into reality. This is also the case with recruitment agencies commissioned to support the appointments to these bodies. These firms have their approved list of people and in the assessment of candidates will ensure the same favoured people, who are mostly white, middle aged and male are appointed to these positions.

Thus, those from ethnic minorities and especially Muslims will be excluded deliberately or otherwise from these appointments, even though they are more than qualified. Despite best practice of removing names from application forms to reduce bias in the appointment process, public appointments continue to ask for CVs and supporting statements with names, thus ensuring bias in the process. The appointment panel can always find an excuse why applicants were not shortlisted, mostly these being standard responses.

In Birmingham, 21.8% of the population are Muslim, yet no Muslim is in any of the top positions in the City. There’s one Cabinet Member, one senior manager in Birmingham City Council, no Chairs of NHS organisations, no NHS Directors or Senior Managers, two Non-Executive Directors and the list goes on.

Perhaps the reason for the under-representation of Muslim community is the lack of education and experience? However, one in four Muslims have a degree, 10% are in higher professional roles. In a recent ICM poll, 86% of of British Muslims feel a strong sense of belonging in Britain, compared to 83% of the national average and 91% felt a strong sense of belonging to their local area, compared to the national average of 76%.

The Muslim community wishes to integrate into British life, yet it seems Britain is not ready to welcome Muslims into their ‘bosom’. The prejudice of people in positions of authority and power to influence and appoint people to senior roles is holding back Muslims and making it difficult to feel part of society. The attitudes must change to ensure the talent of all members of society are utilised for the benefit of the community.

Therefore, no more ‘jobs for the boys’, but a concerted effort to ensure appointments are genuinely open and fair and public institutions must take positive action to appoint Muslims. We have had enough ‘lip service’ we need action to ensure the continued economic and social enhancement of society. Otherwise, not only will the talent be wasted, institutions will not be able to undertake their legal duty in providing services to meet the needs of all sections of the community and the Muslim community will continue to be marginalised from society and not feel they have a stake in society.

Let’s start here in the West Midlands, it shouldn’t be difficult for every institution to pledge to appoint at least one Muslim to a senior position, either on their Board or as a Director. Some institutions are already leading by example. The Police and Crime Commissioner has one on the Board*. Despite being the largest employer Birmingham city council has only one director and one Cabinet member. They can do better and should be leading by example by ensuring better representation at every level of the Council.

I hope the West Midlands Mayor will use the opportunity in the appointment of key positions, to at least ensure one of the key appointments will be a Muslim, otherwise it will be a retrograde step. I have no doubt he has a commitment to equality and has pledged to ensure his top team is representative of the community.

READ: Street to set up Leadership Commission.

The Mayor’s Leadership Commission should undertake an audit of senior appointments and hold to account institutions on their appointment process. It is a vital role of the Mayor to represent and work on behalf of the whole community. I hope that when I post again on these pages it will be telling a more positive story!

*Waheed Saleem is a political and social commentator who sits on a number of boards in the region, including the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Strategic Policing and Crime Board, and writes here in a personal capacity. 

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