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Office towers in Toronto's financial district on June 27, 2018.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

The majority of racialized Canadians have experienced racism at work, including workplace harassment and professional inequities, a new study shows.

The study by global advocacy group Catalyst surveyed more than 5,000 racialized and ethnic women, men, transgender and non-binary employees in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Britain and the United States. It showed that 66 per cent of people surveyed have experienced racism in their career, with 54 per cent of workers reporting that they encountered racism in their current role.

More than half (54 per cent) of Canadian respondents said they have experienced racism in their career, while 37 per cent said they had felt it in their current role.

“The survey shows how insidious the problem is,” says Julie Cafley, executive director of Catalyst Canada.

According to the study, racism at work can include employment and professional inequities such as being passed over for a promotion, racial wage gaps and being excluded from advancement opportunities. It also includes workplace harassment such as slurs, stereotypes and derisive comments.

Forty-eight per cent of global respondents reported experiencing harassment, while 32 per cent said they have encountered professional inequities, which Ms. Cafley said can be more covert and harder to prove than instances of harassment.

Canada had the least amount of people that reported experiencing racism in their current role (37 per cent), compared with 49 per cent in Australia, 51 per cent in the U.S., 53 per cent in New Zealand, 59 per cent in Britain and 67 per cent in South Africa.

“I think in Canada, racism can be a bit more disingenuous, a bit more hidden,” Ms. Cafley said.

According to the research, racism is exacerbated by other diversity factors such as gender and sexual orientation. Among Canadian women surveyed, instances of racism were highest among Middle Eastern and North African, and Latina employees (56 per cent and 50 per cent, respectively), followed by Indigenous women (50 per cent), Black (44 per cent) and Asian women (37 per cent).

For respondents that identify as trans and non-binary, racism in the workplace was highest among Asian employees (50 per cent).

Intersectionality – the term used to describe how multiple social categories like race, class and gender can create both overlapping and separate systems of discrimination – can worsen workplace discrimination, said Larry Rousseau, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress.

“We know that racism is a problem in workplaces,” said Mr. Rousseau, whose organization is the largest labour group in Canada, bringing together multiple national unions and lobbies on behalf of more than three million workers across the country.

He said that both the problem and solution have to come from leadership in organizations, who need to spend more time reaching out to community members, union movements and community associations to understand how to be anti-racist.

“It involves calling out those instances of racism, but also rethinking the way you speak, what you do and how your actions can affect your workers.”

Catalyst supports organizations that want to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in their workplace by providing data, insights and strategies to implement. To combat racism, Catalyst prescribes leaders an examination of the policies, practices and norms at their workplace, to ensure they are being anti-racist.

The job board on LinkedIn lists more than 1,400 diversity and inclusion jobs that are currently seeking applicants.

LinkedIn doesn’t have current data on whether job postings for diversity, equity and inclusion have trended up or down in Canada, but in the U.S., Bloomberg reported a 19-per-cent drop in listings for DEI roles between January to December last year.

Whether the number waxes or wanes, the Canadian Labour Congress says change needs to be in policy and action rather than posturing. Mr. Rousseau said equity can be implemented.

“Companies, organizations and Canada need to have designated positions and establish tangible targets to see representation and equity in the workplace. If you do not start there, you will go nowhere.”

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