In the modern economy, where the private sector will continue to be of ever-increasing importance as a provider of employment opportunities, Muslim representation in private sector jobs will significantly impact the economic well-being of the community. The current state of affairs, so far as Muslim employment in the private corporate sector is concerned, is abysmal and no better than it is in the government and public sector.
Most companies in the private sector are indifferent to the employment of Muslims and other disadvantaged groups, in spite of declarations of equal opportunity. In the absence of legal requirements for ensuring a diverse workforce, the case for diversity in the private sector rests upon:
- The social justice/moral argument. The workforce within an organization should reflect the composition of the population and the social environment within which it operates. Employment opportunities must be fair to all social groups, however defined. Certain groups have been historically disadvantaged and discriminated against, resulting in under-representation in the workforce. Ways have to be found to redress this historical imbalance by providing equal opportunities to all social groups and ensuring that under-represented groups are included in the recruitment and selection process.
- The economic argument (the business case). The underlying logic of the economic argument is that the benefits of diversity exceed its costs, and that promoting diversity within organizations makes good business sense. Diversity within organizations leads to improved understanding of the needs of a diverse society, improved service to a diverse customer base, attraction and retention of better talent from a diverse talent pool, enhanced innovation resulting from diversity within teams, better organizational reputation and customer loyalty, particularly among hitherto under-represented social groups resulting in more business.
While employers tacitly accept, or at least do not explicitly reject, the social justice/ moral argument, it is the business case that provides the most enduring incentive to accept and promote diversity. How then should we convincingly use the diversity argument to improve Muslim representation in the corporate sector? Many employers contend that they select on merit and do not discriminate either against or in favour of any particular social or religious group. This policy, while seemingly logical, does severely constrain the employment opportunities available in the corporate sector to socially and economically disadvantaged groups who are unable to overcome their handicap and compete for jobs on an equal footing with their more privileged compatriots.
It is in redressing this imbalance and attempting to level the playing field that Corporate Social Responsibility has a major role to play. Supporting from CSR funds targeted initiatives designed to enhance the capabilities and skills of the marginalized sections of society to enable them to better compete for corporate employment can significantly improve their representation. This will, hopefully, set in motion a virtuous cycle where businesses can begin to reap the benefits of diversity in the workforce, create more buying power among economically deprived groups, which in turn will generate more demand for their goods and services.
While Indian Muslims are economically weak, they are numerically strong and the aggregate purchasing power of two hundred million consumers has the potential to concentrate minds in corporate board rooms. They are an important consumer segment that is of considerable interest to the business sector. Their better representation in corporate employment will allow businesses to have a better understanding of them as consumers and more advocates and influencers for their goods and services embedded within the community. A thoughtfully designed strategy and a carefully curated and nuanced approach could help move the needle. If executed effectively and well, the message may begin to seep in and attitudes may begin to change, resulting in improved consciousness among employers and a fairer representation in employment for the community.
Hasan Ghias comes from India and has had a long and successful career as a senior business executive in the Gulf. He is a Sloan Fellow of the London Business School and an Advanced Leadership Fellow of Harvard University