Primary school teacher Mazlinah Mohamad Noor never thought she would struggle to find work when she moved to Wellington in 2017 – especially when New Zealand is facing a teacher shortage.
But after applying for more than 200 teaching jobs, Mazlinah, 55, has had little interest from employers and managed to only get five interviews and no offer of a permanent job.
Believing something wasn’t right, her husband David Blocksidge, 68, got her to ask schools for the reasons she was not shortlisted – and concluded the responses show “a toxic mix of institutional bias, Islamophobia and unconscious bias”.
Mazlinah, who wears a hijab, said at one school the interviewer rolled her eyes when she walked in.
“I felt I was already being judged by my name and what I wear,” she said.
Originally from Singapore, Mazlinah taught primary school students for nearly 20 years before moving to Auckland at a time of reported teacher shortages in 2009.
She holds teaching certificates from Singapore and Japan, and a BA in English language and literature from the UK. She has several New Zealand teaching certificates and is a registered teacher there.
Despite her background and the teacher shortage, the only full-time work she has managed to get was at the Al-Madinah School, a state-integrated Islamic school in Auckland where she worked from 2010 until she moved to Wellington in 2017.
One school told Mazlinah she was not successful because the one who got the job “had a good knowledge of students with learning difficulties”, although her CV stated clearly that she also had this experience.
Her husband said, “I began keeping records of her applications and rejections when I started to see a pattern emerging. You can’t statistically apply for that many jobs, and not even get interviews,” Blocksidge said. “Clearly there is widespread bias and Islamophobia, but it’s virtually impossible to prove.”
Mazlinah, a New Zealand citizen since 2015, is getting by with jobs on fixed-term contracts, having had four so far and starting a fifth.
She believes one of the biggest obstacles is her Muslim name.
“I’ve tried changing my name in applications to Mazlinah Blocksidge,” she said, but her Muslim name is still on her teaching certificates.
“I feel disappointed naturally. My confidence is hit, and I ask myself ‘What’s wrong with me?’.”
Auckland University of Technology professor of diversity Edwina Pio said despite the increasing influx of faith-based individuals, some faced “myriad challenges” when seeking employment.
“While my research has shown that many Muslims have found no problem in accessing work, there remain some who bear the brunt of Islamophobia,” she said.
She argues that with the rapidly changing demographic profile of New Zealand, organisations must be agile in how they perceive migrants who openly practice their faith “to reap the rich harvest of wonderful skills, qualifications and innovation” these individuals have.
A 20-year longitudinal New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study recently indicated that Muslims experienced higher levels of prejudice than other ethnic groups, and lower levels of “warmth”.