Time to Tackle the Under-Representation of British Muslims in Top Professions


  • British Muslims least likely to hold professional or managerial jobs of any religious group in Britain – at only half the average level (16 to 30 per cent) – and more likely to be unemployed or living in poverty
  • Report calls for urgent action from Government, employers, universities and within the Muslim community to encourage economic participation and prevent conscious or unconscious discrimination

A report from Demos think tank highlights the chronic under-representation of British Muslims in top professions, and calls for urgent action to ensure more of the youngest generation reach the highest levels of UK society.

Rising to the Top reveals that British Muslims are less proportionately represented in the managerial and professional occupations than any other religious group, at only 16 per cent, compared to an average of 30 per cent. This figure has barely improved since 2001, increasing by only one percentage point, as most other religious groups have more significantly increased their likelihood of holding these top jobs.

Muslims in England and Wales are also disproportionately likely to be unemployed and economically inactive, and have the lowest female participation rate of all religious groups.

Rising to the Top argues that improving the labour market participation of young Muslims will be critical to supporting socio-economic integration and equality of opportunity in Britain.

It explains that the causes of this underrepresentation can be explained by demographic characteristics, and attitudinal and cultural drivers, including:

  • Language: Muslims in England and Wales are more likely to be recent migrants, often with poor English language skills and without access to established networks. They are also disproportionately likely to experience poverty.
  • Education: British Pakistani and Bangladeshi children are much less likely to achieve the very top grades at A-level that are required by leading universities.
  • Cultural attitudes: Cultural attitudes towards limiting the role of women in the labour market are prevalent in the British Muslim community. So too are many young people’s job and education opportunities limited by their parents’ aversion to them moving away from the local community.
  • Discrimination: Research reveals that some industries or organisations continue to discriminate against ethnic minorities in their recruitment processes. Opportunities for progression may also be further challenged by difficulties in immersing themselves in workplace social activities involving alcohol.
  • Workplace Culture: Within organisations, the importance of alcohol to socialising and networking can also challenge Muslims’ ability to progress up the career ladder.

The report features extensive analysis of existing residential, education, labour force data and the Demos Integration Hub, supported by exclusive interviews conducted with schools, universities, local authorities and community organisations in the two East London boroughs with the highest percentage of Muslim residents in the UK: Newham and Tower Hamlets. Focus groups were also conducted with six formers, university students and young professionals from Muslim backgrounds.

To address the barriers identified in the report, the authors recommend:

The Government should:

  • Ensure integration strategies do not solely focus on values or counter-extremism, but also seek to promote the economic and political benefits that greater participation in Britain’s civic life and labour market can bring to both young Muslims and the broader community
  • Continue to support organisations like Future First, UpRising and the East London Business Alliance, which are already leading important work in helping ethnic minorities to overcome barriers to social mobility
  • Explore applying new criteria to public procurement decisions relating to the diversity statistics of service providers, in order to encourage diversity within the private sector
  • Legislate to make the anonymisation of CVs compulsory in private and public sector recruitment

The Muslim community should:

  • Lead the way in shifting attitudes within their community towards the role of women in the home and workplace, to encourage a greater level of economic participation. Younger generations may champion this, but it must also be supported by key institutions, such as mosques and the Muslim Council of Britain.

Schools and local authorities should:

  • Ensure that they are offering good information, advice and guidance to make sure that students who aspire to top professions are making the right educational choices.
  • These could include conducting parent-focused public information campaigns on the employment and education landscape of the UK, and recruiting high-flying Muslim professionals to run career education evenings with parents.
  • High performing students with poor formal English skills should also receive targeted tutoring, to ensure that a lack of formal English capability is not a barrier to talent.

Universities should:

  • Fund a programme similar to AimHigher, which will help to boost representation from disadvantaged communities – including British Muslim communities – in Russell Group universities in particular.

Employers should:

  • Do more to prevent discrimination and reduce the perception of discrimination – with the Government and organisations such as the CBI encouraging them to undertake contextual recruitment as part of their graduate recruitment process.

Commenting on the report, its author Louis Reynolds said:

“Our national conversation about integration almost always focus on abstract values and attitudes, and too infrequently considers the practical factors that also play such a strong a role in people’s social and economic advancement. As this report shows, a few achievable changes in education, local authority support, and renewed commitments from Muslim communities and employers, could go a long way towards correcting the underrepresentation of Muslims amongst the UK’s top jobs. Improvement in this area will be an important and necessary step forward for Britain, as our society will become stronger and more cohesive as we begin to tap into the economic potential of many more of our talented young people.”

John Hall, Chairman of the Aldgate and Allhallows Foundation, said:

“The Foundation supports the educational needs of young people in Tower Hamlets and is very pleased to have supported this report. Limitations to progression after study as reported here are as deserving of attention and remedy as the more frequently examined progression to higher education itself.”

Notes to Editors

Demos is Britain’s leading cross-party think tank. We are an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research. Visit: www.demos.co.uk.

This report was supported by: City of London Corporation, Aldgate & Allhallows Foundation and Newham London Borough Council.


Sophie Gaston – Press and Communications Manager, Demos
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