Last week, me and my colleague Aisha took part in a focus group session as part of the Women and Equalities Select Committee Enquiry into Muslim Employment. The enquiry has been set up by the Committee, which is made up of MPs from a mixture of political parties to investigate the reasons why employment rates among the Muslim population are especially low.
We were early when we reached the meeting location which was a small community centre in the middle of Luton and we were the first to arrive. Two tables were set up in the middle of the main hall and a table of sandwiches, crisps and fruit was prepared for the attendees on one side of the room. We spoke to the coordinator from Parliament Outreach who invited us to take some food and settle in before the MPs arrived. A few more participants came into the hall and sat on the table with us, however we were a fairly small group made up of just 8 people all together. As we sat down with our food and got talking to one another, the MPs arrived at the hall and introduced themselves individually to everyone in the room.
Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley grabbed some sandwiches from the table and sat with me and Aisha and we got talking about regular everyday things like where the best places to go shopping in Birmingham are and what we did for a living. We also asked her about her work as an MP and she explained she has been helping Sadiq Khan with his Mayoral Election campaign and that during the week she lives in London because Parliament working days are really long. The Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller came over and spoke to me and Aisha. Aisha asked about the process involved in the enquiry and Maria explained that all of the information gathered will be compiled into a report which will make recommendations to the government about how they can help to increase the Muslim employment rate.
Maria gave a short introduction about the Committee to the group and explained the aims of the session. We were then split into two groups. Our group contained 4 participants and two MPs – Jess Philips and Gavin Shuker. We then got into discussing the reasons we felt that Muslims were under represented in higher paid and senior level jobs. The MPs steered the discussion and asked us to focus on different topics including barriers for women, cultural barriers, and discrimination against Muslims both within the workplace and during the application process.
There were times when participants went off course with what they were talking about but the MPs tried to keep the conversation on track and listened closely to what we were saying. At the end of the discussion we wrote up our notes on flip chart paper and presented what we discussed to the other group.
The session was beneficial in the way that we were able to have a direct and honest discussion with MPs about our own experiences within the Labour market. I did think it was a shame that the group was so small as it is important that as many people as possible contribute to enquiries like this to ensure that a wide range of issues and experiences are heard and acknowledged.
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