Black Canadians worry possible recession would hit anti-racism progress at work: report

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Most Black Canadians feel their employers have made progress in addressing anti-Black racism in the workplace but worry a possible recession would stall or even wipe out those gains, a new survey has found.

The study by KPMG found that nine in 10 (90 per cent) respondents think their employers made “progress on efforts to be more equitable and inclusive for Black employees in 2022,” such as engaging more Black-owned businesses or improving customer service practices for Black customers and clients.

However, respondents said they are concerned that an economic downturn could threaten the progress that has been made over the years.

The study surveyed over 1,000 Black Canadians and was conducted between Dec. 21, 2022, and Jan. 9, 2023.

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The World Bank on Tuesday warned that the global economy will come “perilously close” to a recession this year, led by weaker growth in all the world’s top economies, including the United States, Europe and China.

In Canada, researchers at Deloitte and economists at most big Canadian banks are also expecting 2023 to be the year that will see the economy take a big hit.

The survey, published Monday, found that while 75 per cent of respondents are worried about the impact of a recession on their career growth and possibilities for promotion, 77 per cent are “concerned it will hurt the career and promotion prospects of their Black and racialized colleagues harder than others.”

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With recession fears in Canada, is an economic ‘soft landing’ on the table?

Nearly seven in 10 (69 per cent) of those surveyed think that Black and racialized people will be among the first to lose their jobs in a potential recession. Additionally, the survey showed that 73 per cent “believe anti-Black racism efforts and broader diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives will be ‘put on the back burner’ by their employer during an economic downturn.”

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Rob Davis, KPMG Canada’s chief inclusion and diversity officer, as well as chair of the board of directors, shared that concern.

“Economic headwinds are ahead of us … but I think organizations may just use that as an excuse to stop funding certain initiatives they’re doing that was moving the needle,” Davis told Global News.

“That would really upset me,” Davis said. “To see Black, Indigenous, and people with disabilities being disproportionately impacted, that would worry me … and I plead with employers to continue to do the right thing.”

According to Davis, it is important to continue to have conversations and “to build awareness around (anti-Black racism).”

“I think as long as employers and employees continue to have the discussion, I think progress will be made,” Davis said.

He also emphasized on the need to keep focusing on mentorship, sponsorship, and promotion of Black employees.

“I can certainly speak to our organization, but what I’ve heard loud and clear … is that representation matters,” Davis said.

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He said that improving Black Canadians’ job prospects and increasing representation not just in leadership positions, but all across organizations, would give junior Black employees hope and help them in their advancement.

“Until our people see folks that look like me in senior leadership, they’re not going to believe it and that’s just reality,” Davis said.

According to the survey, nearly six in 10 (59 per cent) respondents said their employer’s efforts to hire more Black people improved in 2022, and more than half of respondents (54 per cent) said their employer’s efforts to promote more Black people into leadership roles also improved.

“At the personal level, 68 per cent said their prospects for advancement, such as opportunities to work on impactful projects, upskilling and training for higher level roles, have improved over the last year, while 58 per cent said their promotion prospects had improved,” the survey said.

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Davis pointed out that work from home and hybrid work also had a big impact on employers’ progress in the context of anti-Black Racism, as the survey found that working remotely was largely seen as a positive experience by most respondents.

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Seven in 10 (72 per cent) said remote work helped reduce anti-Black racism at their workplace because their colleagues focused more on their skills rather than their skin colour, and 71 per cent said it helped ease some of the pressures they faced as a Black person in the workplace. More than two-thirds (68 per cent) said working remotely removed racial barriers to career advancement.

“Before the pandemic, especially for Black employees, there were microaggressions. There was a fear of … being in the office. … And they just didn’t feel like they fit in. However, what we noticed during the pandemic is … because of Teams and Zoom, you had a view of people’s homes,” Davis said.

“You saw their pets; you saw their kids screaming. And whether they’re Black, white or Asian parents, … they all had kids screaming,” he added.

He said that experience “personalized” things for everybody, irrespective of race.

“It made us really understand that we’re more the same than different,” Davis added.

— with files from The Associated Press and Global News’s Craig Lord 

KPMG in Canada surveyed 1,001 Canadians who self-identified as Black between Dec. 21, 2022, and Jan. 9, 2023, using Schlesinger Group’s Methodify online research platform. The margin of error was +/- 3 percentage points, with a confidence level of 95 per cent.


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