How To Overcome Hijab Harassment At Work

Thank you for applying to work at our company! Unfortunately, we’re sorry to say…

You don’t need to finish reading. You already know this is a rejection email—another one. 

So many of us have experienced the job hunt slump. When it feels like no one is interested in hiring what you have to offer. And the people who make up our Tech Sisters community experience this even more often. In a report from the European Network Against Racism, ethnic minority job applicants needed to apply 74% more times than white counterparts to achieve an equal level of success. 

These “ethnic penalties” are exacerbated by misguided assumptions and stereotypes about Muslim women.  43% of Muslim women felt like they were treated differently or experienced discrimination during job interviews because they were Muslim. And 50% of hijabis felt like they missed out on career progression opportunities because of their hijab. 

As a hijabi myself, I can say that I’ve definitely experienced harassment caused by people’s reactions to my hijab. Thankfully, I’ve never experienced it in any work-related setting. However, it’s definitely a topic that comes up a lot in our community. (Read about how other women experience being Muslim women in tech) I can completely relate to the anxious feeling when you don’t know if the interviewer will judge you for your skills or the cloth on your head. 

It’s not our imagination. The problem exists, and it’s widespread. But we have to persist. We have to keep going and help those around us to secure our place and build a safer, more inclusive culture. 

Hijabi Harassment

Harassment doesn’t have to be as extreme as colleagues ripping off our headscarves. It’s any words or actions that make us feel uncomfortable, threatened, or intimidated. It’s realizing your colleagues assumed you were forced to wear the hijab, being made the punchline of another terrorist “joke.” We can feel that something is off right away. But it’s easy to talk ourselves down by excusing an offending comment as just playful banter. 

We all deserve to find work where we feel safe, valued, and treated with respect. We deserve work that aligns with our morals and interests, pays enough, and has progression opportunities. But realistically, that’s hard to find. A lot of women find themselves weighing putting up with some “light” harassment against making rent. And that’s completely valid. Here are some questions to help guide that thought process. 

Should I stay at this job? Questions to help guide your decision.

Do you feel safe?

If you do, great. If you don’t, getting safe should be your top priority. Talk to your company’s HR department. Get advice from your mentors and close trusted network. Do whatever you need to do to protect yourself.

What level is the harassment?

Are you going to be worn down by consistently experiencing this every day? Or is it something that can be changed (without putting yourself at risk)?

Can this role help advance your career?

Do you feel like your work is valued, and you’re given room to grow? Will sticking through this put you in a better position to make lasting change? Remember, it’s not on you to sacrifice yourself to change a company’s culture.

Is this a dawah opportunity?

Will having an open and honest talk about your reasons for wearing the hijab change anything? Your colleagues might know next to nothing about Islam, so some education could do some good. However, it’s not your responsibility to change their minds for them.

Keep going

If you’re having a hard time finding a job right now, and you’re worried it’s because of your hijab or your Muslim-sounding name, remember that it’s nothing about you. These aren’t personal attacks. 

The rejections don’t define you. What you choose to do with them is what defines you. 

Keep going. Take care of yourself. Don’t let yourself feel burned out or discouraged. 

Reach out to supportive groups (like Tech Sisters!) who get what you’re going through. Look at causes you care about and think of ways you can contribute. 

When the time is right, the opportunities will come, and you’ll be ready for them. 

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