Workers with burqas - what you need to know

by HCA03 Oct 2014
Tony Abbott finds burqas “confronting”, while his chief of staff Peta Credlin reportedly supports them being banned from Parliament House.

But “society has a responsibility to adapt and embrace”, said international HR Director Laurie Hibbs, who said that workplaces who foster diversity and inclusion will be all the better for it.

“The burqa issue is topical, but it's not unique from Sikhs in uniformed professions, or women in combat roles. Society has a responsibility to adapt and embrace and workplaces are better for it,” said Hibbs, who has recently moved back to Australia after seven years working in banking, publishing and FMCG in London, to co-found Not Just Another Consultancy with partner Celeste Halliday.

“To me, this is a complex issue, but not one that can be solved by blanket rules or policies. The temptation is always to legislate or create policy on cultural dissonance when in fact, you should resolve each issue individually and with tolerance.”

If an employee wishes to wear cultural clothing in the workplace, it’s important to liaise with that staff member on an individual basis, Hibbs said, being careful to ask how – and indeed, if – they would feel comfortable sharing their views. 

“I would offer the same option to any employee who felt uncomfortable, and try and engender a dialogue,” he said.

“Many individual differences can be minimised by simply sharing experience and gaining understanding, if not agreement.” 
While anything that “creates danger for others or is illegal cannot be embraced”, Hibbs said that every human has the right to dress in a manner that is appropriate to their beliefs and social norms.

“Any business in pursuit of diversity and better understanding of customers, should encourage and create an environment where variety is accepted, understood and encouraged,” he added.

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  • by Comment 3/10/2014 11:26:09 AM

    What absolute rubbish.

    "You should resolve each issue individually"

    So one rule for one person and another rule for others?

  • by Sarah 3/10/2014 11:45:24 AM

    While Ms Gibbs makes a valid point in terms of cultural diversity (and I'm all for it), one big issue she doesn't touch on is our responsibility as employers to provide a safe work environment.

    Unfortunately, burqas present a security risk in that we may not know the identity of the person who walks into the office or whether they are carrying a concealed weapon or they are strapped with explosives underneath the garment. It would be so easy to impersonate an employee who usually wears a burqa, and in this way infiltrate the workplace if someone had it in their mind to commit a terrorist act. It's like allowing people in with balaclavas. And what about couriers with helmets? I believe a law was introduced that couriers are meant to take off their helmets when entering a building. Of course, this is not a diversity issue so it's acceptable to ask them to show their face--but this is still in the name of security.

    The issue of burqas, in my opinion, is not so much a diversity issue but a safety/security one. I don't think the government wants to change people's cultural beliefs, but the government does have a responsibility to keep its population safe, just as employers must keep a safe workplace.

    Unfortunately, due to terrorism, our society will need to make up its mind what is more important--compromising cultural diversity or keeping people safe.

    Perhaps, if workplaces introduced some form of security screening to ensure it's always the same person wearing the burqa in the workplace, then there should be no issue wearing a burqa. I believe at airports anyone wearing a burqa is taken into a separate room and the person is checked for ID purposes against their passport photo by a female officer.

    I would rather we adopt some measures like the above than have a whole bunch of employees injured or losing their lives as a result of a terrorist act.

    We live in a dangerous world unfortunately, and when 9/11 shook the world this was only the beginning to the problems we would have to face in the future, often compromising certain freedoms and cultural diversity.

    I'm sure if someone like Ms Gibbs lost a loved one in a terrorist act because the terrorist wore a burqa as camouflage she'd be singing a different tune.

    I hope nothing like this ever happens in our country. But with terrorism we're fighting an irrational state of mind. And if truth be told, this is a huge "bomb" waiting to explode (no pun intended), and if it does, then everyone will be complaining to the government and/or employers that we never kept a "safe working environment". So you can't have it both ways--something's got to give.

  • by kevin 3/10/2014 11:46:56 AM

    If an employee wishes to wear cultural clothing in the workplace, it’s important to liaise with that staff member on an individual basis, Gibbs said, being careful to ask how – and indeed, if – they would feel comfortable sharing their views.

    I wonder if at any time Gibbs has asked his other workers how they feel. When Tony Abbott and others have exclusive meetings with members of the Islamic community how should I feel. Is this a form of political harassment and discrimination?

    Interesting how this topic is playing out simply because one man had the courage to share his opinion. At least he had one not like our Mr Shorten who is quoted as saying "he does not have an opinion (what courage) but then again all he is interested in political oportunism.
    I feel very sad and violated when members of our police and miliary are asked not to wear their uniforms for fear of being targeted by other members of the community.

    One thing that would help substantially is if member of the muslim community stood "shoulder to shoulder" with the rest of Australia on issues such as terrorism. Perhaps then we would feel that we were one - perhaps even "team Australia".

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