by Angie Weinberger
Multinational companies in Switzerland promote an “inclusive” culture. All people regardless of their religious or cultural background should have the same opportunities within the company. While I often hear that Switzerland is so intercultural as it has four different language regions and lies in the middle of Europe I experience a different reality. In public discussions we speak about differences but we hardly touch pragmatic solutions for helping each other to get along. Here are 13 easy to implement ideas to make your Muslim employees feel more included in your workforce.
At the bottom of inclusiveness is intercultural competence or as I call it “Global Leadership Competency”. Last year, one of my Muslim clients was attacked in the tram (local train) because she was wearing a headscarf. She and her husband had just moved into Basel from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She then decided not to wear a headscarf and to speak German in public. She is fluent as she grew up in Germany. One of my colleagues told me about an African-American who is scared to leave his house because he is constantly asked for his papers and stared at. He wears a beard and his religious background is not Muslim but he feels treated like a terrorist here.
Another one of my US clients who is of Malaysian decent asked me why he is constantly asked for his residence permit these days. And I heard many other stories from friends who just happen to have a Pakistani, Indian or Tunisian background. Most of them are well-educated professionals who could work anywhere in the world.
We help our clients to gain their confidence back. We point out that Switzerland is an open country with a long history of religious freedom. That includes the freedom to not believe in anything at all. We raise the intercultural competence of the employees in the companies we work with but we cannot reach every single person in the country. I am embarrassed when I hear such stories.
We wish for our clients to be received with open arms in everyday life and in the companies they work for irrespective of their cultural and religious background.
Since 2000, I observed that many global companies develop intercultural competence of their staff and managers mainly through training and legislative minimum standards. While this is better than nothing it is not enough. In Switzerland, the current trend in diversity training is to uncover our “unconscious bias”, i.e how our unconscious stereotypes affect our hiring and promotion decisions. We tend to like people who look like us, think like us, behave like us come from backgrounds similar to ours. This is also called the Mini-Me syndrome.
I don’t see many discussions in corporations around intercultural, interracial and inter-religious differences and commonalities. The main reason is that outside of intercultural training these differences tend to be seen as personal differences more often than cultural differences. Once there is a conflict it is often attributed to the individual rather than cultural background. Or the other way round: Negative judgements are attributed to the cultural background rather than the individual behavior. Hardly anyone I know has enough knowledge to even distinguish between a stereotype and a cultural tendency.
We should encourage intercultural discussions more often. Awareness creates acceptance in a multicultural environment. In Tourism, we tackle customers differently according to their cultural background. In companies we can provide a discrimination-free environment and welcome everyone with open arms by considering a few minor but effective adjustments.
1) Religion is a private matter of every employee which should not have to do anything with her or his work performance. If we focus our assessments on performance rather than person we are on a good track.
2) Muslims might need short breaks to pray. If we use a trust-based time management system rather than strict time control we can ensure that the religious minorities get the prayer time during the day.
3) In hospitals physician must learn rules which have to be observed by Muslims especially when a man treats a women. In case of doubt ask the patient.
4) In tourism we need to learn what is important to client from the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia for example as with the ban of burqas we might not be able to serve those clients in Switzerland any longer.
5) In the police we need to ensure that we are moving away from stereotyping and get a clear understanding of why many young man feel overburdened with the life in another culture while their families at home depend on their financial support.
6) As therapists and other health care professionals we need to learn how trauma of war and being alone when you come from a collectivist cultural background might affect your psyche. We also need to understand that counseling might not be a concept in many of the home cultures of Muslim employees (assuming they did not grow up in Europe or the US).
7) We need to differentiate the social classes of the person we speak to. If you have an Islamic banker or a writer who had fled from Afghanistan, then you are likely to have no misunderstandings because you can communicate with both in German or English. But if you talk to a less educated colleague who has just arrived in Switzerland and does not yet speak the language well, then of course you will need to simplify your language and use techniques to check in if he or she understands you. Avoid to speak in child language and use proper German or English when speaking.
8) We need to train our staff members at authorities, medical assistants, personal assistants and company receptionists to deal with cultural differences better.
9) We can get the basics for inclusion right. It is also important for Jews, Hindus, Jains and many other religious minorities to know what they eat and drink. You can install signs in the canteen and explain what is in the food. You can offer one halal meat dish. At cocktail parties you can show which drinks contain alcohol and explain that everyone is welcome even if they don’t like wine.
10) We can approve extended holidays over Muslim festivals to fly or drive home. Adapt your company’s HR policy to provide more flexibility for different religious holidays.
11) We can congratulate Muslims on their holidays. In the fasting month of Ramadan allow shorter working hours.
12) We can provide prayer and meditation rooms to our staff. It helps all staff members to have quite zones where they can contemplate, pray or simply meditate in these hectic times.
13) We can provide more vocational training and internship opportunities to refugees and asylum seekers. Many refugees do not have formal qualifications and will fall through the roster of our recruitment processes but we could see how they work if we provide more internships and vocational training to them.
I hope that these 13 pragmatic ideas will help you to build an environment in which your Muslim employees feel more included. If you would like more customized advice please contact me at email@example.com.