Skip to main content

Dennis Mitchell, CEO and chief investment officer, Starlight Capital

Dennis Mitchell, CEO and CIO of Starlight Capital, seen here at the Albany Club in Toronto, on Feb. 28, 2019.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Last week I got a call from a young man of colour that I mentor. He was despondent. He said, “It doesn’t matter what I achieve, a number of people out there will still see me as a threat and may kill me over something as simple as a counterfeit $20 [bill] or reaching for my licence or registration in the car.” This is a kid who has risen up from foster care and extreme poverty to studying business at the University of Toronto. It’s heartbreaking when you see kids with huge potential, who have accomplished so much in a short period of time, essentially giving up because they don’t think that this world will recognize their achievements.

In my own career, I’ve had someone tell me “I’ve been working since Day 1 to get you fired.” And I thought, “the only thing you would have known about me on Day 1 is that I’m Black.”

When you’re putting together a work force, you want people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Business is a series of optimizations – figuring out the right capital structure, the right product mix or the right price. If your work force is diverse, you can pull the answers from a wider range of knowledge and experience.

But you’re never going to have a diverse work force if you’re always hiring and promoting the people you went to Upper Canada College with. Cast a wider net, hire more diverse candidates and guide them into more senior positions to create true diversity within your organization.

As told to Alexandra Posadzki

Heather Campbell, Regulatory Compliance Lead, TC Energy Corp.

Heather Campbell, engineer and regulatory compliance lead at TC Energy Corp.Phil Crozier/Phil Crozier

I reflect on Mr. Stockwell Day, and his resignation from the Telus board and McMillan LLP, and as a commentator for the CBC. The test for me, when I think about those organizations, is going to be: Who will replace him on those board seats? Will it be a transgender person? Will it be a woman of colour? Will it be an Indigenous person?

How do we go about encouraging and making those positions accessible and approachable, especially for people of colour?

I am a professional engineer. One of the beauties of being a licensed professional engineer with APEGA [the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta] is I get an annual salary survey, and that salary survey tells me every year how much less I make than my male peers because I’m a woman. I would also love to know how much less I make because I’m a woman of colour. There’s no data for that.

I’m not surprised there are folks at the senior leadership level of this country and across business who do not understand systemic racism. It’s likely because they haven’t experienced it, and they haven’t actually had to think through the financial, health, social and mental health impact.

I was 15 years old when [Michael] Wade Lawson was killed by Peel Regional Police in 1988. I knew Wade. His mother [Evelyn Lennon-Lyon] was my hairdresser. I knew Wade because he’d be there, mowing the lawn at the salon.

I don’t know that the majority of business leaders across Canada can point to an incident at 15 years old and say, “I know someone who has been murdered by the police.” I just don’t think that’s a common lived experience.

As told to Kelly Cryderman

Kevin Johnson, CEO, MediaCom Canada


Several years ago I met a friend’s daughter for coffee. She was top of her class at a top school in Canada, impressive résumé. An intelligent, well-educated Black woman ready to take on her dreams. And one of her first questions to me, with concern in her eyes, was, “Kevin, do you think I should take out my braids?” That stayed with me. We know racial bias is there.

My fear is that [Canadians] try and convince ourselves that it’s just happening “over there.” It’s happening here. I’ve experienced it. While I do see glimmers of hope in the next generation coming up from the Black community, there’s a clear ceiling. Admin, finance, clerical – that is the majority of the positions that Black Canadians take up.

[Companies] basically have been drawing from the same well. Typically [business leaders] take those calls – like, “my niece just graduated,” or “my good friend’s daughter really wants to get into advertising” – those favours are recycled, and we’re not getting opportunities to get in front of the right people.

Part of my legacy needs to be as someone who fostered and pushed for the Black community, and opened doors for the next generation. But it’s dual accountability: I have and will continue to challenge other leaders. We need to recognize that white privilege exists. There is no doubt about it. The fact that you can get a call to the head of an agency or someone of significance, that’s privilege. Better education, more access, all of these things are privilege. Leaders need to come to terms with that. If your desire is to do something, then what is required is significant support for this community.

Even in more senior positions of leadership, I did feel uncomfortable, because there were no others that looked like me or came from the places that I came from. In my first years in the industry, I didn’t want anyone to know that I was from Rexdale [in Toronto]. How could I explain where I was coming from, what I had seen in my area, the murders, the stress, the financial issues that we had? How do I share all of that? I hid those things. I no longer came from Rexdale; I came from Etobicoke. So, I struggled until I gained confidence that I had earned the right to be there and that I was unique in my way of doing things – when I realized that I could use my Blackness as a strength.​

As told to Susan Krashinsky Robertson

Jessica Yamoah, founder, Innovate Inc.

Jessica Yamoah, founder of Innovate Inc. poses for a photograph in Toronto on Friday, January 12, 2018.Christopher Katsarov/For The Globe and Mail

While our Black American counterparts are incrementally entering the business leadership ranks, Black Canadians continue to face systemic barriers to social and economic inclusion that have manifested in under- and unemployment in Corporate Canada. The same thing happens in entrepreneurship organizations and communities: there is often little or no support for Black Canadians.

In spite of pledges and one-off tactical investments, Canada’s corporate diversity initiatives don’t often focus on Black Canadians. Nor do these initiatives operate with an anti-Black racism lens, recognize cultural contexts that dignify the Black Community, or value its contributions to society and the economy.

The current state of race relations around the world aligns with Black Canadian sentiments regarding Corporate Canada. To evoke change in the corporate environment, directives have to come from leadership – with investments parallel to those made towards youth, gender equality, other racialized communities, and LGBTQ2IS communities. All of which intersect the Black community, but are lost on a larger scale.

The Raptors are an interesting case study on how to innovate through inclusion, from “The Architect” Masai Ujiri, who built the most diverse winning team in the NBA, to Tamara Tatham – the Black female mentor coach of affiliate team Raptors 905. Rivals BCE and Rogers even united on their partnership with MLSE. These appear to be big wins until you ask: Does the organization’s front office leadership, its parent companies’ top ranks, its media organizations, and leaders within its corporate partners reflect the majority Black players on the court? And what is the level of inclusivity across all of their companies and affiliates?

At Innovate Inc., we recognize the value in Canada’s Black and underrepresented communities. And as its founder, who comes from Corporate Canada – I know my worth. If diversity is Canada’s strength, inclusion is how Canada recognizes the value of diverse people. At this juncture, the number of Black board members, C-Suite Executives, and investments in cultivating Black Canadians in Corporate Canada speaks for itself. The world has heard how deafening 8 minutes and 46 seconds can be. I am here, Corporate Canada, if you need to talk.

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.