In the majority of Western societies, Muslims are dealing with higher levels of job discrimination than any other minority group., According to recent research from Britain the situation is getting worse.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey, Muslims have the least chance of being in a managerial role, or even being in work at all. Muslim men are up to 76% less likely to have a job of any kind, compared with white male Christians of the same age and qualification level. Muslim women, meanwhile, are up to 65% less likely to be employed than their white Christian counterparts.

According to the researchers, Nabil Khattab and Ron Johnston, the situation is likely to stem from growing Islamophobia. Muslims are “perceived as disloyal and as a threat, rather than just as a disadvantaged minority”. Khattab states: “Within this climate, many employers will be discouraged from employing qualified Muslims, especially if there are others from their own [ethnic] groups or others from less ‘threatening’ groups who can fill these jobs.”

Are we being blinded by a discourse dominated by negative unconscious associations, which see Muslims as different, disloyal and dangerous?

This situation is ideal for groups such as ISIS, that feed off binaries of “us versus them”, “Muslims versus the West”. It works in extremists’ favour if Westerners fear Muslims. Their purpose is to make it increasingly difficult for young Muslims to live in Western societies, thus making it easier for terror groups to recruit them.

A race at risk

There are many potential causes of radicalization, and these can be divided into three categories: situational, strategic and ideological. One of the key situational causes stems from racial and religious discrimination, as well as economic and social exclusion. This can result in feelings of loneliness and isolation, of not being worth anything, or being a burden on society. It makes Muslims especially vulnerable to terror groups that offer the exact opposite: inclusion, community and connectedness.

Workplaces hold the key to changing this. The recipe is simple: hire Muslims for their skills and leverage their potential, show them respect and include them in your organization. Together with people of diverse backgrounds and skills, Muslims can help us future-proof our organizations.

The solution may seem simple, but the situation isn’t. Even in organizations that value diversity, exclusion is still the norm. Studies have found that job applicants with a name that sounds native to that country are called back for job interviews around 40% more than those whose names sound foreign, even if they have identical education, skills and work histories. Employers may intend to hire only the most qualified candidates, but the recruiting process is biased: we tend to hire people who are similar to ourselves.

So, what's the solution?

Changing this will require a completely different approach. We have two systems in the brain, which Nobel economist Daniel Kahneman calls System One (unconscious and irrational) and System Two (conscious and rational). Now think of these two brain systems as an elephant (one) and its rider (two): as the elephant acts, the rider is guiding its action in a particular direction. The elephant is driven by emotions and survival instinct, and is dominating up to 90% of our behaviour and decision-making. There is no way the rational rider can move a 6-ton elephant if it’s not motivated and is afraid. Changing behaviours and decisions about who to hire requires that we move the elephant towards inclusive behaviour – and that is where “inclusion nudges” come into the picture.

Inclusion nudges are a behavioural intervention, a non-intrusive mental push that can mitigate unconscious bias, help the brain make more objective decisions, and promote more inclusive behaviours. These interventions help people to behave more inclusively and can change the perception of diversity from a “nice to have” to a “need to have”.

There are three ways that inclusion nudges can mitigate bias in recruiting:

1. “Feel the need” inclusion nudge

This is not the same as “understanding the need” for change. The purpose is to show leaders their biases. The trick is to get people to see their actual behaviour, rather than their self-perception. This is an example of an eye-opening exercise: each participant evaluates one candidate and rates their qualifications and potential for a position or promotion on a scale of 0–100%. The participants believe that they are each getting a different candidate to evaluate. They are told all the applications of the candidates are exactly the same word by word, with only the photograph, name, skin colour and gender changed. When they realize that they have evaluated the candidates differently, they realize their bias. They are now motivated to change their recruitment practices. In fact, the leaders ask for help to make less biased decisions.

2. “Process” inclusion nudge

This is about making it easy to act inclusively as a part of an existing process, without relying on reflection and will power. It’s like auditioning for a symphony orchestra: the musician plays behind a screen in order for the evaluation committee to focus solely on listening to their performance. It has resulted in a better ethnic composition in orchestras, and 40% more women being hired. It’s cheap and easy to adjust electronic recruiting systems to hide personal information, and it makes a big difference in the fight against exclusion.

3. “Framing” inclusion nudges

These are about changing our perception of diversity from “helping minorities” and “nice to haves” to organizing resources and “need to haves”. Instead of setting diversity targets for percentages of minorities in the workforce, we should be setting team targets, such as a 70% limit on team members of the same nationality, ethnicity, gender, generation and educational/professional background.

Inclusion nudges have proven powerful in organizations worldwide, but they must occur at the systemic, cultural, discursive and behavioural levels simultaneously if they are to have the necessary impact.

“What we see is what we believe.” When we see a larger proportion of Muslims in our workplaces, we will believe in their competencies. Employers have the power to make it increasingly easy to live as a Muslim in Western society. We just have to nudge the unconscious first.

Author: Tinna C. Nielsen is an anthropologist and founder of the non-profit organization Move the Elephant for Inclusiveness and the global sharing initiative