For many Canadians, the last few months have been a personal and collective reckoning on anti-Black racism.
Black Canadians have long raised their voices about systemic bias in our systems. But society as a whole had not truly listened or fully understood that by characterizing incidents as one-offs or not reflective of who we are as Canadians, we dismissed the existence and impact of racism in our country.
When we did acknowledge that racism existed, we talked a lot about the need for change – but that commitment often only lasted until it was overshadowed by the next item in the news cycle.
Sadly, this news cycle seems to be on a never-ending loop. The recent shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin and the new video showing the treatment of Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri after his team won the NBA championship are stark reminders of that.
While talking about the issue and raising awareness is important, it is not enough. We need to take concrete action to understand and dismantle anti-Black racism where it exists in our organizations and in our society at large.
At KPMG, we have always prided ourselves on having an inclusive and diverse organization – and we are better and stronger because of it.
However, like many organizations, our firm did not truly understand the extent and impact of racism throughout society on our Black employees.
Recently, a number of KPMG employees shared their realities of being Black in Canada. This took courage to share the pain, anger and vulnerability they’ve had to deal with most every day in their lives.
For many employees who are not Black, these stories painted a picture of a Canada they were unaware of – and shocked by. Most had no idea of the level of racism their colleagues and friends faced.
But this shock is necessary. It’s only through these difficult conversations that we can begin to understand the reality that all races in Canada are not treated equally.
While we have an urgent call to action, there is no quick fix here. We must move beyond band-aid solutions and calls to simply acknowledge that racism exists to delivering on long-term plans for sustained change.
As business leaders, we need to play a key role in this. To deliver meaningful and lasting change, organizations need to:
- Acknowledge the existence of anti-Black racism and commit to engaging their Black employees to understand their realities and build solutions. Senior leadership in Canadian organizations must acknowledge the reality of systemic racism, whether inside or outside their organization, and commit resources to addressing and dismantling it. This must include building open and safe processes where Black employees can share their experiences, perspectives and ideas for change. In designing solutions, it is critical that the voice of the Black community is fully engaged in the conversation.
- Collect and analyze data to identify systemic barriers. To deliver meaningful change, organizations need to fully recognize the barriers that exist in order to know how to break them down. It’s essential to understand the career progression of Black employees in your organization – from hiring to advancement to retention and employee engagement – to know where the systemic issues exist. To truly understand where change is required, organizations need data specific to the Black community.
- Educate all your employees on the realities of anti-Black racism in Canada. It is unrealistic to put the onus of societal change and education on our Black community. Organizations need to take it upon themselves to educate their employees on the prevalence of anti-Black racism in our society and the importance of Allyship in driving sustained change. And while many organizations have spent time training their teams on bias and inclusive leadership, few have broached the difficult conversation of racism. This needs to be an explicit part of people management training in order to dismantle bias in recruiting, assessing performance and ultimately promotion and compensation.
- Engage and support the broader Black community. As we have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians expect the business community to be active players in addressing the issues and challenges facing society. Organizations need to look at ways to drive positive and sustained changes through partnering with community groups, establishing scholarships, mentorships and career development programs. The BlackNorth Initiative is a good example of Canadian leaders working to collectively take action to end anti-Black systemic racism and create opportunities for under-represented groups.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a good place to start – and start we must.
For too long Corporate Canada has avoided talking about systemic racism in the workplace. It’s now time to stand up for real and lasting change.
It’s time to opt in and be actively anti-racist and inclusive.
Elio Luongo (left) is CEO and senior partner of KPMG in Canada. He is the Leadership Lab columnist for September, 2020. Robert Davis (right) is partner, tax and deputy board chair at KPMG in Canada.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.
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