Almost a year and a half after its launch, the BlackNorth Initiative – a non-profit focused on tackling anti-Black systemic racism in corporate Canada – has unveiled a detailed guide aimed at helping employers tangibly advance race-related diversity initiatives within their organizations.
Branded as the “Racial Equity Pledge Playbook,” the guide is geared toward employers that signed the BlackNorth pledge, a series of commitments made by some of Canada’s largest companies in the summer of 2020. The pledge challenged them to tackle systemic racism by hiring more Black people and elevating Black employees to senior leadership roles.
The guide offers the first granular recommendations by the initiative on how to tackle diversity issues and work toward meeting the goals outlined in the BlackNorth pledge.
A Globe and Mail analysis published in July, exactly a year after hundreds of companies committed to the pledge, found that many had shown little or no clear progress toward meeting many goals they committed to. The analysis of the first 209 companies that signed the pledge showed that a majority had not increased the number of Black employees in their work force or elevated Black people to executive roles or the board level.
On process-oriented goals such as setting up diversity committees, however, companies had made large strides.
Dahabo Ahmed-Omer, executive director of the BlackNorth Initiative, told The Globe the playbook has been in the works for more than 10 months, and was born out of the need to provide a clearer road map to organizations struggling to meet diversity goals.
“There are a variety of different signatories. Some of the large companies know what they are doing, others are challenged and just not sure how to go about achieving their goals. So the playbook is a guide for companies – regardless of where they are in their diversity journey – to put words into action,” Ms. Ahmed-Omer said.
The BlackNorth movement was founded by Bay Street financier Wes Hall, in the aftermath of the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by a white police officer in the summer of 2020, an incident that ultimately led to a belated reckoning on race within the corporate world.
The initiative quickly morphed into the pre-eminent racial justice cause that corporate Canada chose to associate itself with. To date, close to 500 organizations, ranging from corporate heavyweights such as Telus Corp., Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Air Canada, to private hospitals and colleges, have signed on to the initiative.
Companies committed to meet seven goals by 2025. For example, they pledged to have Black leaders fill at least 3.5 per cent of executive and board roles by 2025, hire at least a 5 per cent Black student work force and devote at least 3 per cent of corporate donations and sponsorships to initiatives that would “create economic opportunities in the Black community.”
In an interview with The Globe in July – a year after the first group of more than 200 companies signed the pledge – Mr. Hall expressed frustration at the pace of progress. “Look, you made a commitment to your own employees and a public commitment to the Black community. It’s done. So we expect that everyone who made that commitment will live up to it, and we hope they did not just sign the pledge for show,” he said.
But some signatories told The Globe there was a lack of direction from BlackNorth and they feared they could be publicly called out for not making progress after one year, even though they had signed up for a 2025 deadline.
Now, the 150-page playbook, which was crafted by BlackNorth and Boston Consulting Group – on a pro bono basis, according to Ms. Ahmed-Omer – could provide the guidance many employers wanted.
The playbook includes a slew of suggestions to companies on eliminating racial inequity, such as eradicating racial gaps in compensation, applying a degree of leniency to job applicants who have non-violent criminal records and encouraging companies to remove names on job applications during the hiring process.
The guide provides a detailed approach to how companies can source diverse talent to begin with – by adjusting their screening policies to include applications from a wider pool of schools and colleges, as well as using recruitment companies that can reach candidates outside the usual hiring pipeline.
Data in the playbook paint a bleak picture of just how severe and systematically entrenched anti-Black racism is in Canadian workplaces.
Résumés of white job applicants with criminal records, for example, receive 12 times more callbacks than résumés of Black job applicants with criminal records. Black Torontonians are only about half as likely to hold a bachelor’s degree versus the rest of the population, but 65 per cent of employers reject candidates with relevant experience for a job in favour of university graduates.
The data also show that, to date, there are just two Black C-suite executives in Canada’s seven largest energy companies, six largest banks, five largest telecom providers and two largest life insurers.
Ms. Ahmed-Omer said that over the past 10 months, BlackNorth conducted numerous “peer-to-peer sessions and lunch clubs” with companies to help develop the playbook. “We are not going to be around forever. So, how do we make sure there are systems in place in companies internally that will bring about systemic change?”
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