What comes to your mind when you saw a woman wearing a hijab (a veil or hair cover used by Muslim women)? Take a pause and think of that question for a moment. What can you remember about the experience? Have you created a prejudgment in your mind aside from thinking she’s a Muslim? How do you understand the word Muslim in the first place? Imagine you’re the woman and people around you are looking at you critically or indifferently, what can you feel?
After posting content on my Facebook page in support of Philippine Senator Robin Padilla’s statement about using the word Muslim, one of my followers commented, “Let’s be fair. We are all Filipinos. It is even difficult for us to find a job because if companies saw Islam in our resumes, they wouldn’t accept us.” She said that in Filipino, by the way. After reading the comment, I was surprised and empathetic at the same time. Since then, I’ve wondered how our Muslim friends and neighbors are being treated at work.
Inclusivity in the workplace is a critical issue, especially in countries where a single religion has a strong hold despite not having a state religion. Employees with different religions and cultures might experience discrimination at work without embracing diversity. With that in mind, I invited Jean Kenneth “Reema” Jimenez, a Sales Trainer at eLink Systems and Concepts Corp., to join us in this relevant discussion.
The First Woman to Wear a Hijab at eLink
Have you experienced being discriminated against at work because of your religion or belief? Jean said she hadn’t experience such an injustice yet. “The people and companies I worked with were very kind and understanding to me,” she expressed. “They were very caring in a way. They make sure that all the food that is given to me doesn’t contain pork,” she added.
Jean grew up in a Roman Catholic family, an experience common to more than 80% of Filipinos. She reverted (in her word) to the Muslim faith about a year and five months ago. Before working as a Sales Trainer with eLink, she worked before as an ESL Teacher, Pizza Chef, and Customer Service Agent.
She is working at eLink for three months now, and she’s the first woman to wear a hijab in the office. Though there are already three of them with the same faith, they still belong to a minority group. Thus, tackling religious and cultural inclusivity in the workplace becomes a significant topic, not only for them but also for anyone who can find this article.
Never Encountered Such an Experience
Have you known someone who has been discriminated against at work because of a different religious or cultural practice and belief? “Yes, I have, ” Jean answered. According to her, she has heard such stories when she wasn’t a Muslim yet. They said that it’s difficult to be a Muslim, especially if you are a woman since people will look at you from head to foot if you go out wearing covered clothing. She further retold that at work, managers tend to neglect their concerns. However, Jean couldn’t agree with them because she had never encountered such an experience.
Nonetheless, there was a piece of news around 2017 by GMA Network, a Philippine media company, reporting about a woman Muslim applicant who experienced hiring and profiling discrimination. Based on the story, the company discontinued her application after undergoing training because of her refusal to take out her hijab while in the office. This story makes the discussion of inclusivity in the workplace important to be dealt with.
Hijab As a Factor in Discriminatory Practices
“Muslim women who wear hijab,” trainer Jean Kenneth Jimenez shared with us, “are the first ones that caught public attention and automatically be identified as a practicing Muslim.”
She further noted that this makes other women feel uncomfortable wearing a hijab in public because people can identify them quickly and may separate them from other women in the room. Civic leader Samira Gutoc has also discussed about the use of hijab during our interview before she joined the New York Fashion Week last February.
In the 19th Congress, Sen. Robin Padilla, a converted Muslim, co-authored Senate Bill 1410 regarding the observance of National Hijab Day on February 1 of every year. Aside from showing solidarity with Muslim women, the provision aims to ensure cultural understanding and fight discrimination. As of this writing, the bill is still pending in the second reading. Nevertheless, its counterpart in the House of Representatives is already approved in the third and final reading.
eLink Is Flexible with Religion and Culture
“Being the first Muslim woman who got accepted at eLink, I am very thankful for how the company is very flexible with my religion and practice,” Jean happily shared in her writing. She finds the company very welcoming and everyone very respectful of her culture. “I never felt alone,” she insinuated.
Jean continued saying, “The management is very understanding, especially in terms of my religious prayers and the people around me were very kind and always respects me as a Muslim woman.” She also stated that some asked her questions, suggesting they wanted to know and understand more about her religion and culture. “It is quite fascinating,” Jean expressed, “listening to their knowledge about Islamic laws.”
Observation of Ramadan While at Work
How does your fasting or observation of Ramadan progress while working with eLink?
Jean: So far, I am enjoying my Ramadan fast. Due to my work schedule, fasting became easy for me.
Would you refer a Muslim brother or sister to work with eLink?
Jean: For sure, I will, and I have a brother and a sister here already. I am proud of having them here.
What is an ideal working environment for you?
Jean: It would be a diverse and well-cultured company. A happy place and people to work with. A company that nurtures someone’s ability to grow and become better in the future. A company that doesn’t leave anyone behind when it comes to progress.
Do you find sales the right job for you? Kindly expound on your answer.
Jean: Yes, I do. Ever since I entered BPO, I hate fixed salaries. I am very ambitious. I love to work on my numbers which drive me to switch to business (small business) and sales company (any sales will do).
For more discussion about Ramadan, watch the video below.
Showing How You Respect Your Culture and Religion
Asking for a bit of advice for someone experiencing religious and cultural discrimination at work, Sales Trainer Jean responded, “Show them how you respect your culture and religion by saying no to their request that are against it. Because it always starts with ourselves, if we show them how we respect ourselves and our religion, then the people around us will start showing us the respect that you are expecting them to do.”
I would want to agree that respecting one’s beliefs could affect how people around us respond. Nonetheless, I think respect for someone’s culture and religion should also be a normal practice for everyone, especially in a civilized world, let alone in a corporate environment.
See the image below for a set of practical guidelines against the discrimination of employees based on their ethnic or religious backgrounds from the Red Flag project, done in partnership with the Mindanao Business Council (MinBC).
Religious and Cultural Inclusivity in the Workplace
For Jean, religious and cultural inclusivity in the workplace is about respecting someone’s beliefs by not joking about their tradition, prescribed clothes, and dietary guidelines. “It also means,” she added, “doing whatever is possible in accommodating the individual’s religious practices.”
Jean believes the government has enough provisionary measures in protecting religious and cultural minorities at work. “We, Muslims,” she stated, “are given enough legal protection from the government. May it be work-related or general laws.” Moreover, she doesn’t see any bias in how the government addresses their concerns when they raise issues with them or when they asked for help in resolving some unlawful act done to them by companies or people they worked with.
Sen. Robinhood Padilla filed Senate Bill No. 233 last year, seeking severe penalties for discrimination, including profiling and refusing service, based on race, religion, or criminal record. Similar provisions have already been filed in the Senate, including Senate Bill No. 108 or the Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination bill filed by Sen. Grace Poe and Senate Bill No. 245 or the Anti-Discrimination bill filed by Sen. Loren Legarda.
The measures mentioned above are applicable to all aspects of our society, from home and school to public spaces and corporate offices. Truthfully, as experienced by Jean Kenneth Jimenez, eLink is an entity that embraces religious and cultural inclusivity in the workplace.
If you want to join our Sales Department as a Sales Representative, don’t hesitate to send us your resume to email@example.com. Feel free to ask us for more vacancies that fits you. We’re looking forward to having you on board.