The Toronto woman, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, is one of the few Black employees at the non-profit organization where she works.
In the last few weeks, amid worldwide protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality, Claire says she has tried to stimulate discourse about race in her workplace — but it falls on deaf ears.
“I’ve definitely raised the issue of … communication going out from our organization,” Claire told Global News.
“Are our Black staff being listened to? No. Are our Black staff being included in discussions that pertain to them? No.”
Claire says supporting the Black community is “trendy” right now. She believes the action her employer has taken in the last few weeks will be a single moment of performative support instead of an ongoing effort to create a more equal workplace.
In the aftermath of George Floyd‘s death, Claire’s employer sent out several company-wide memos offering support to the Black community. The company also committed some money to anti-discrimination training for staff.
When Claire and her fellow Black colleagues pushed back and asked for more, she alleges they were ignored.
“We heard nothing, and then (the company) sent another mass email … but it’s like, you didn’t even address the first problem,” Claire said.
Claire’s experience is not unique — it’s happening to employees in Canada on a daily basis.
“Most organizations aren’t comfortable having this conversation,” said Helen Ofosu, a psychologist, human resources consultant and career coach who specializes in racism in the workplace.
“Part of this whole conversation of systemic racism or systemic discrimination is realizing that sometimes, individual actions are not racist, but the impact of certain policies, procedures and unwritten rules create unequal outcomes.”
Unfortunately, creating lasting change within an organization usually requires the organization to first admit it has a racism problem — something most are not willing to do,” she said.
However, if a company really wants to improve for its Black employees, she said are some immediate steps it can take.
‘Put your money where your mouth is’
Sending out emails that say the company supports Black people is one thing — putting money behind those words is entirely another, experts say.
“Put your money where your mouth is,” said Samantha Peters, a legally trained professional with a focus on labour, employment and human rights law. She recently co-wrote an article providing advice for employers on how to support Black employees during this time.
“If you care about your Black employees, then you need to care about the community in which they live, which means that there are things you can do.”
There are many ways organizations can offer financial support, Peters said.
The first is asking Black employees about organizations in the community that need financial support and then offering to make a donation.
If the employer decides to offer a stipend to employees to remedy uneven salaries, they need to be matched with how much the employee is actually making.
“A one-size-fits-all $250 grocery card doesn’t mean much when you have one employee receiving $30,000 per year and another employee who’s receiving $75,000,” Peters said.
Hiring, promotion practices
A company can’t commit to change without taking a critical look at their hiring and promotion practices, experts say.
“Right now, this requires — at minimum — an audit and adjustment of how recruitment happens, how hiring happens, how promotion happens, who decides who gets which projects,” Ofosu said.
“Who gets considered for succession and then grooming for future leadership positions?”
These are all ways racism can be imbued within an organization, even if members of the organization don’t realize it, she said.
Remedying the situation requires “involvement from leadership, a budget and a real openness to re-evaluate,” Ofosu said.
Listen more, speak less
Employers need to strike a balance: ensure the voices of Black employees are heard but don’t force them to speak,” experts say.
“Black people have lived experiences with race that are diverse and that are very different from white experiences with race,” Lisa M. Stulberg, associate professor of sociology of education at New York University, previously told Global News.
Stulberg, whose research focuses on the politics of race and education, says “allies to any movement need to always be paying attention to when it is the right time to speak and when it is the right time to just listen, learn and follow.”
Claire said at first, it was hard for her to speak up.
“Later on, it became apparent to me that I had to,” Claire said. “I know I’m not the educator, but at the same time, I realized I could give tips on sources of information.”
Renee Raymond, a registered psychotherapist based in Toronto, said at a time like this, non-Black Canadians may not know how to support their Black friends, family members or colleagues. Living with these experiences and seeing these experiences are two completely different things, she previously told Global News.
“We can only understand someone’s story so much, and that includes understanding the hurt and trauma that the Black community is facing,” she said.
“If you’re speaking to your Black colleagues, friends and spouses, listen to what they’re saying rather than qualifying their experience based on your own.”
For Claire, active change doesn’t exist without Black voices.
“If you have an organization where there’s a small number of Black staff and you can’t engage all of them — or at least give them the chance, since not everyone is going to be in the space to do so — then no, you’re not actually making any change,” Claire said.
“If all of your Black staff is saying ‘Here are some things that we can do,’ and then you come back with training, you’re not taking any steps forward.”
More information about Anti-Black racism in Canada:
Racial profiling and racial discrimination against Black people is a systemic problem in Canada, according to numerous reports and experts.
Black Canadians account for 3.5 per cent of the country’s total population, according to the latest government statistics, but are over-represented in federal prisons by more than 300 per cent, as found by the John Howard Society.
A Black person is nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be involved in a fatal shooting by Toronto police, a 2018 report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission found, and Black Canadians are more likely to experience inappropriate or unjustified searches during encounters and unnecessary charges or arrests. They’re also more likely to be held overnight by police than white people, according to the John Howard Society.
Black Canadians experience disparities in health outcomes compared to the population at large, according to research from the Black Health Alliance. The Black Experiences in Health Care Symposium Report notes that they often face barriers and discrimination within health-care systems. Black people report higher rates of diabetes and hypertension compared to white people, which researchers published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health say may stem from experiences of racism in everyday life.
— With files from Global News’ Laura Hensley and Olivia Bowden