Tuesday, 14 February 2017

It Would Be More Surprising If Employers Are *Not* Discriminating Against Muslims


A couple of days ago I saw a feature on the BBC News channel on discrimination against Muslims in the job market - Is it easier to get a job if you're Adam or Mohamed?:

"A job seeker with an English-sounding name was offered three times the number of interviews than an applicant with a Muslim name, a BBC test found. Inside Out London sent CVs from two candidates, "Adam" and "Mohamed", who had identical skills and experience, in response to 100 job opportunities. Adam was offered 12 interviews, while Mohamed was offered four."

The reports conclude that there is 'Significant discrimination' going on in the job market against Muslims. The BBC feature also showed that Muslims are the minority group that find it hardest to obtain employment - a fact that is creating all kinds of social problems in areas with high concentrations of Muslims.

With my economist hat on, I don't find it in the least bit strange that Muslims are being discriminated against in the labour market. Quite the contrary, it would be stranger to me if they weren't being discriminated against, because if there is one thing we ought to be discriminating against it is people's views and beliefs.

I have shown before on this blog how the market weeds out unfair discrimination and how it is foolish for an employer to discriminate on factors that don't affect someone's ability to do a job. But that's just another way of  saying that it is wise to discriminate on factors that do affect someone's ability to do a job. That's why we don't see blind lifeguards and people in wheelchairs working on the top of cranes.

Ah, but hang on, being a Muslim doesn't preclude someone from doing a job, does it?

No it doesn't, not usually, but hang on yourself - we are talking about a more subtle kind of discrimination here - one that I can fully sympathise with. Imagine you're an employer and you're shortlisting for five candidates for an interview based on application forms and CVs. You have 4 shortlisted already and the fifth is between an applicant called Adam and an applicant called Mohamed. All other things being equal, it is perfectly understandable why a prospective employer would pick Adam over Mohamed.

That's not to say that Mohamed would always be worse than Adam - in fact, there may be instances where, in not picking Mohamed, the employer has omitted the strongest candidate of all. But you must understand that picking job candidates is not an exact science, it is a probability estimate that occurs in a fast-paced world with lots of asymmetry of information.

Knowing that Adam the non-Muslim and Mohamed the Muslim are equally qualified, the prospective employer knows that as a broad cross-national probability estimate, Adam provides less of a risk of being a worse employee than Mohamed. Like I said, not always, but all the employer is interested in at this stage is picking the people who he or she thinks constitute the best candidates to be good work colleagues with as few barriers as possible to doing the job.

Unfortunately for Mohamed, he lives in a world in which people's views and beliefs ought to be scrutinised, and judgements ought to be placed on that scrutiny. One should feel no differently about a scientologist, an astrologer, a member of the BNP, a young earth creationist, and so on - not that these views and beliefs always maketh a bad candidate, but simply that they increase the probability of doing so.

They do so on the basis that if you're sort of person to believe things that are obvious to everyone on the outside as being nonsense, or have views that are obvious to everyone on the outside as being socially toxic, you are likely to be the sort of person susceptible to all manner of bad thinking and dodgy beliefs (I've elaborated on how Islam falls into that category numerous time before on this blog).

So while Mohamed may sometimes be the best candidate for the job, he has an increased probability of missing out on an interview due to the socio-cultural stigma of being a Muslim in a place like the UK. And that's because, even if the probability is low, as long as all other things are equal, a prospective employer ought to factor in Islam into the consideration of who to shortlist for the interview. For example, Mohamed may be less preferable than Adam because being a Muslim, he might have a religious needs that disrupt his work more than Adam (going out to pray during the day for example), he might have a troublesome attitude towards female colleagues, he might be disruptive by being overly preachy, he might be more susceptible to other extreme beliefs, he might be politically toxic to the work atmosphere, and although hopefully unlikely, there is perhaps a slim chance that he might be a radicalised Muslim or go on to become one in the future.

The point is not that all Muslims are like this (obviously!!) or even that the things I described are highly representative of Muslims in the UK (they are probably not!!) - it is that in the landscape of employers choosing prospective employees they are going to pick candidates for an interview that have the lowest probability of being bad workers and bad colleagues. And in a straight shoot out between an unknown candidate called Adam and an unknown candidate called Mohamed, it is easy to see why prospective employers would opt for the former over the latter, thereby making the BBC's discriminating statistics unsurprising.
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