Demos Report: Rising to the Top

Louis Reynolds and Jonathan Birwell’s report, ‘Rising to the Top’ begins with the commendable premise

A successfully integrated society is one in which all ethnic or religious groups are more or less equally represented in positions of power in society. Shared values must go hand in hand with socio-economic integration and equality of opportunity

The report provides a conclusive analysis that as far as Britain’s Muslim population is concerned, their share of ‘top jobs’ in the labour market is significantly and disproportionately low. The report offers policy recommendations to overcome  barriers of prejudice, the  structural impediments operating at a societal level, as well as the need for an internal critique by Muslims of Muslim cultural norms, particularly relating to women entering the labour market and aspiring for top jobs.

The authors draw on published data as well as field work. The former includes the as well as the 2001 and 2011 Censuses,  UCAS and HESA, and other national statistics, as well as pupil and student data drawn from schools, universities and local authorities in East London.  Reference is also made to the report of the Muslim Council of Britain based on the 2011 Census, . The Demos team also conducted semi-structured depth interviews with 17 key stakeholders from local government, schools, universities, the third sector and businesses, and held four focus groups with British Muslims from each stage of the journey into the top professions: two focus groups with sixth formers from Newham and Tower Hamlets, one with students from a range of London universities and one with young professionals from industries ranging from banking to law, public service to journalism.

Their findings are that Muslims occupy a substantially different position in the labour market from other religious groups. Only 16 per cent of Muslims are represented in the ‘top professions’, against an average of 30 per cent of the general population in England and Wales. The only other religious group that fell below the average in England and Wales were Sikhs, of whom 25 per cent are in top professions.

Among the structural factors contributing to this imbalance is the  ‘old boy network’ which favours persons already belonging to professional families:

The way that a lot of young people access the top occupations and gain employment is through social networks. That’s something that a lot of young people from poorer backgrounds don’t have. That is one of the biggest barriers – how do you get them access to those networks?

The continued focus on British Muslims as a ‘security problem’ contributes to a stereotypical image. Stereotypes contribute to direct and indirect discrimination:

The first potential workplace driver of under-representation is the potential for British Muslims to face discrimination in recruitment practices. There is evidence suggesting that British Muslims face discrimination when accessing employers in the top professions. Direct discrimination remains a problem, and the less frequently discussed issues of stereotype threat and perceived discrimination, which can present barriers to both employment and educational attainment, are also important.

At a cultural level, the authors note:

There is still a significant pressure on girls [not to enter the labour market]. It’s not as bad as it was ten years ago; back then you got a lot of very able, bright girls who got good A-levels who weren’t allowed to move away from home. Schools put a lot of time and effort into trying to change that. Certainly, where they feel a girl’s future is being put in jeopardy by the withholding of parental consent, they act. In some schools – those which have put an enormous amount of work into this area –their efforts are reflected in the data; they have more kids going to university. One of the main barriers to going to the best universities is a reluctance to travel, and this is particularly the case for female students

In his foreword to the report, John Hall of the Aldgate and Allhallows Foundation offers a message that ought to reverberate in the CBI and other corridors of power:

 This is not a report for filing. It is a report for everyone interested in the future prospects of young Muslim people in East London and across the UK. For young East Londoners there is a remarkable ‘city of opportunity’ just west of Tower Hamlets and another in the heart of the borough at Canary Wharf. Known and negligent under-representation will no longer do. As the report shows, various schools and colleges, firms, organisations and charities are already showing what can be done.

click here for report.