A group of high-profile Bay Street executives is calling on Canadian businesses to use their economic and social clout to challenge anti-Black racism in Canada and to commit to increasing Black representation in corporate leadership positions.
Over the past two weeks, many of Canada’s largest companies have made statements condemning racism after a wave of protests against police violence in the United States and Canada. A new organization called the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism, which launched on Wednesday, aims to ensure corporations follow through on their statements and take active steps to support Black employees and the Black community more broadly.
“We want to make it so it’s not just a cause célèbre ... and then the news cycle changes and you move on to your normal lives,” said Wes Hall, executive chairman of Kingsdale Advisors, who is founder and chair of the council. “We want to let people know that this time is really different.”
The group’s co-chairs include notables such as Victor Dodig, chief executive officer of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Prem Watsa, CEO of Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., and Rola Dagher, CEO of Cisco Systems Canada.
Its first move is getting CEOs of other major Canadian corporations to sign a pledge that says their organizations will help combat systemic racism. The council is holding a virtual event on July 20, where executives will be asked to outline what their organizations are doing to support the Black community and to promote Black employees to leadership positions.
The initiative is partly modelled on the 30% Club, which seeks to improve female representation on corporate boards and in executive positions by getting companies around the world to publicly commit to targets and timelines.
“Corporate leaders, they love numbers, but they also love deadlines," Mr. Hall said. “Because if you give them no deadlines, they procrastinate. If we now say to companies, we would like to see Black representation on boards by a certain period of time, then the community can actually see whether we’re walking the talk.”
Meryl Afrika, president of the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals, applauded the initiative, which her organization hopes to support with data it is collecting on Black employment and compensation on Bay Street.
For companies to pay more than lip-service to diversity, they need to commit to specific employment goals and employee support programs, she said. That could mean changing recruitment practices to ensure companies see more Black candidates, or making sure that the human resources teams that oversee company diversity initiatives are actually diverse themselves.
“When it comes to compensation, there needs to be a screening internally of the compensation to ensure that [Black employees are] paid the same amount within the same pay bracket as their white counterparts,” Ms. Afrika said.
Financial services businesses, in particular, could do more to support Black entrepreneurs, who have historically had less access to capital, Ms. Afrika added.
“You look at Scotia[bank], they have the women’s initiative, for example, where they host these workshops to support women, so it helps them to be able to get funding or know how to put together a pitch for funding at a bank or a [venture capital] fund. I think something similar needs to happen for Black entrepreneurs," she said.
Beyond asking companies to examine their own hiring and promotion practices, the council is also asking Corporate Canada to put its financial weight and business acumen toward solving problems, such as inadequate access to health care and educational opportunities, that affect the Black community. That could mean re-directing corporate donations toward different charities or volunteering time and expertise, Mr. Hall said.
“We’re trying to solve not just an employment problem; we’re trying to solve a systemic problem that is in all areas of our society: policing, education, health care. So if we just say we’re going to solve employment problems, we’re not solving the problem," Mr. Hall said.
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