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The success Muslim women experience in the workplace stems from their belief in themselves as well as the organisation’s commitment to enhance their lives by exposing them to and emphasising various career-related interventions.

These were the main findings in Mandela University lecturer, Nuraan Agherdien’s PhD research in Human Resources Management. She graduated at the University’s Autumn Graduation on 17 April.   
Considering the unique cultural and social contexts in which Muslim women navigate their lives, the study explored successful individuals’ views and the factors that influenced the success they experience. The various barriers that Muslim women face in the world of work, as well as interventions to enhance their success, were also investigated. 
According to Agherdien, her study revealed that to Muslim women it was more about having  commitment from top management towards their career trajectories and creating opportunities for these women to flourish - than the actual interventions, which include professional development, education and training initiatives, mentoring and coaching, promotion and inclusivity. Interventions should be real and not just paper exercises with no results. 
Factors inhibiting the success of women in general, and Muslim women specifically, include a lack of educational opportunities, skills, financial resources, traditional and religious practices, stereotyping, organisational culture, multiple roles, gender bias and equality, work-family conflict, role conflict, low wages, inequality, transformation, guilt, shame and knowledge gaps.
Muslim women’s contexts refer to their rights in accordance with Islam, marriage, divorce, inheritance, dress, gender roles and expectations, shari’ah, work and life in general. The Quraan, Sunnahs, Pillars of Islam, Shari’ah and Hadeeths provide Muslims with guidelines and laws on how to live and navigate their lives as Muslims, Agherdien says. 
“As much as this is clear, and I quote my father-in-law, ‘Islam is not difficult, people make it difficult’, it is open to interpretation. That said, many misconceptions and stereotypes exist around Muslims in general, and specifically Muslim women regarding gender roles and expectations which are evident in Muslim and Western communities”, she says.  
For example, in Northern African and Arab states, restrictive gender and cultural norms contribute to the lack of participation of Muslim women in education and work. Also, in previous studies on Muslim women, it was and still is evident, that even in South Africa (known for its rich diversity), discrimination towards Muslim women based on dress, hijab, food and drink, and treatment in and out of the workplace, is ongoing, Agherdien says. 
Additionally, it was found that many (not all) Muslim girls or women are not provided with opportunities to further their studies and more so for Muslim girls or women in Muslim Indian communities. Current studies on Muslim women focus on the hijab (headscarf) and few focus specifically on the success of Muslim women. 
“So much so that I received feedback from participants saying, ‘finally’, ‘it’s about time’ and ‘more studies should be done on this’ – to mention a few. The mixed-method research methodology elicited Muslim women participants’ stories in terms of their lives, including work, which is exceptional, she says. 
“And yes, inclusion is also about catering for Muslims. It was found for example, that some Muslim women stopped attending functions, not because they did not want to network and create opportunities, but because they were not catered for. Inclusion is creating the space where one feels valued and part of something, with a supportive, open, transparent, gender-neutral culture to allow individuals to fully integrate within their organisations. 
Although organisations do need to provide ‘spaces and interventions’, one cannot sit back and wait for things to happen or blame ‘discrimination’. Many of these successful women attribute their success to hard work, passion, a need for achievement, upbringing, religion (deen) and a want to succeed, a want to do more and be more for themselves, but also within their communities, Agherdien says. 
If top management supports and the importance of career advancement for Muslim women and provides an environment of inclusivity, fairness, and equality, then their rate of success will increase. 
The model proposed by Agherdien included interventions that should be used by all organisations attempting to create a fully inclusive environment, inclusive of all genders, races and religions and the study contributes to the scarcity of research in this field in South Africa and abroad. 
“It is extremely relevant, specifically from an inclusion, diversity, and equity perspective, and Agherdien’s study has also demonstrated academic rigour as the approach and interpretation of the study, sources and verses used were verified by a Muslim cleric (Sheikh), says her supervisor Professor Michelle Mey and some of the external examiners.
“This has been a journey of self-discovery and through this, my beliefs have only been strengthened. I am a strong, proud, practicing Muslim woman. Shukran and thank you to all that supported me throughout this journey, especially my family and supervisor for their unwavering support, and for seeing it through my eyes and the eyes of many Muslim women - without them, this would not have been possible. Mom and dad (May the Almighty grant you the highest ranks in Jannah Aameen) – this is for you!”, Agherdien added.  

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160