Prior to starting my job, I was warned by one of my Arabic teachers about the corporate world from an Islamic standpoint. I did not completely understand what the corporate world was like, but he worked in the corporate world for decades. He spoke about being careful about gender interactions and alcohol gatherings. I am a practicing Muslim woman and Islam is an important part of my life, so I wanted to ensure that my work in the corporate world does not affect my religious practices.
I listened to a podcast prior to starting my job, which discussed how an orthodox Jew and Shabbat observer, Kivi Bernhard, was a keynote speaker at an important Microsoft conference with global executives. The opening of the conference fell on Shabbat and he turned down the offer because he could not open on that day because of his religion. Microsoft offered him double speaker fees, but Bernhard turned down the offer. Eventually, Microsoft changed the opening day to the next day to accommodate him. Bill Gates commented, “There are some things money cannot buy.” It inspired me that Bernhard was steadfast with his religious values and was not deterred when an influential and large company tried to influence him. He was adamant about sticking with his religious values, regardless of the sum of money offered to him, and Microsoft eventually changed the date because Bernhard was steadfast.
Right after I started working at Epsilon Life Sciences, I explained my prayer situation, and informed HR that I have to pray during work. They pointed to specific private rooms within the office. I also clearly and respectfully declined anything that has gatherings with alcohol. I was surprised because when I first declined an invitation a few days after I started, and informed HR why, senior levels of management scheduled a meeting with me to discuss. They asked me questions about specific situations and what gatherings I could and could not attend, which I informed them that if the gathering has alcohol, I cannot be with that gathering. They even gave me possible scenarios and situations that I may encounter during my job, and asked me what I would do in those situations. I was extremely grateful that they provided me with the opportunity to discuss my religious preferences. They have been extremely accommodating after I have started, and I am truly grateful for their concerns and it has made me feel very comfortable in my workplace.
The alcohol accomodations were beyond my expectations because I informed them that I would simply not attend the gatherings with alcohol, but they accommodated me at the main gatherings, because they wanted me to attend. I was impressed with my employer because they are willing to have vulnerable conversations with their employees and take initiative to accommodate workplace preferences. For example, they took alcohol out of the fridge and stored it elsewhere (which they went above and beyond), they renamed “Happy Hours” to “Social Hours” and politely asked people on the call to not have alcohol, and they also moved alcohol gatherings to separate times so that the primary gathering would be alcohol-free. We also had a one week work retreat, and they informed me in advance which gatherings would and would not have alcohol, dedicated a bowling lane as alcohol-free, and had an alcohol-free table at an event with alcohol and other colleagues joined the table as well. I’ve also had senior management ask about prayer times and iftar time during Ramadan.
However, I also recognize that it is important for Muslims themselves to speak up to their management about their religious preferences. I have heard anecdotes from family friends, where Muslims have adjusted their clothing or have not been able to be open about their prayer, only to meet the preferences of the employer. I personally believe that if I had to adjust or compromise my religious practices for my employer, then it would not be the right workplace for me, or it would be telling for me as well, who I am as a Muslim and what I value more. I know that I am not willing to ever give up my religious values for my employer, and the best employer for me is someone who listens and is willing to accommodate my requests. Alhamdulilah, I am so thankful to have an employer who sincerely cares about my values but also the values of all their staff.
Don’t be afraid to speak up to your employer about what is important to you. Don’t compromise your values because of fear. I have learned that people are willing to listen and even go above and beyond to accommodate and meet your requests, from my experiences. Speak up for yourself and your values and you may find a support network that you never anticipated.
Mayesha Awal received her B.A. in both Psychology and Government from Georgetown University, and her M.S. in Healthcare Management from Indiana University-Bloomington. Prior to working as an Analyst, Mayesha has contributed extensively to international and domestic experiential-learning trips related to public health. She has also worked in a large hospital system, in its continuous improvement department. Overall, Mayesha has developed skills in research, data analysis, project management, and field experience, in her experiences as an intern.
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