Rob Davis is chair of the board of directors and chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer at KPMG in Canada. Elio Luongo is CEO and senior partner of KPMG in Canada.
It’s been nearly two years since the killing of George Floyd fuelled the growth of Black Lives Matter protests. Since the summer of 2020, companies of all sizes have made commitments to reduce anti-Black racism and hire and promote more Black people, something we explored in this space nearly 18 months ago. Five hundred Canadian companies have signed the BlackNorth pledge. So have they followed through on their promises?
Last summer, a Globe and Mail survey of BlackNorth signatories found a majority neither increased the number of Black employees in their work force nor elevated Black people to executive or board positions within the first year of signing the pledge.
In January, KPMG Canada surveyed 1,000 Black Canadians for their views on whether their employers have made progress on being more inclusive for Black Canadians. More than two thirds of respondents told us that their employers are making some form of progress, with 36 per cent describing that progress as “good.” More than half agreed their employers are making genuine progress to promote more Black people into leadership roles, and more than seven in 10 say their managers and top management have a better understanding of the systemic barriers Black Canadians face.
Many companies recognized the status quo needed to end in the summer of 2020 and many declared the end of the old (predominantly white) boys club. Organizations realized they had to do things differently, and they’re more aware of unconscious bias and the systemic barriers that prevent Black people from advancing into leadership roles.
But while Black Canadians feel their workplaces are more inclusive, that hasn’t necessarily translated into better promotion and job opportunities. Nearly 40 per cent of our poll respondents said their prospects for advancement have remained unchanged since the summer of 2020. More concerning is the picture for job-seeking Black Canadians. More than half of unemployed Black Canadians said their job prospects have remained unchanged over the last year and a half, while 14 per cent say they’ve actually worsened because they’re facing more discrimination during the recruitment process.
So where’s the disconnect? While we have seen an increased sense of awareness by companies about anti-Black racism and other forms of racism, what’s missing is a meaningful understanding of the issues underpinning racial inequities, and that’s where the real work needs to be done. We’re not going to make real sustainable change until we all understand why inequities exists and why they’re still being reinforced.
To understand the inequities, one simply needs to look at the data. Despite an eight per cent drop in overall crime in 2020, the number of police-reported hate crimes in Canada increased by 37 per cent during the first year of the pandemic – the largest number of police-reported hate crimes since comparable data became available in 2009. Much of the rise in police-reported hate crimes targeting race or ethnicity was the result of a 92 per cent increase in crimes targeting the Black population.
Recent research by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation shows only 49 per cent of Black Canadians say race relations are generally good, down 23 per cent from 2019.
This suggests that anti-Black racism is still prevalent and rising in Canada, despite signs of progress being made within the walls of Canadian businesses. And until we stamp out the root of racism, progress in Corporate Canada will continue to remain slow.
What can we do to increase understanding and speed up progress?
Educate employees on the roots of inequity. In any given workplace, you’ll often hear employees say things such as “I don’t see colour” in discussions about race or when referring to their BIPOC colleagues. While this has good intentions and certainly doesn’t imply harm, it inadvertently dismisses the experiences of people of colour. Acknowledging that Black co-workers may have had to work harder to get to the same level as their non-Black colleagues (while likely encountering discrimination along the way), is the first step in understanding that race does matter. Gaining this understanding can be done through consistent and constant training, workshops, town halls, listening sessions and the establishment of employee resource groups committed to addressing racial inequities.
Make addressing racism a bigger HR priority. Human resources departments have had a full plate of issues to deal with during the pandemic, and anti-racism efforts fell down the priority list for organizations in the face of rising COVID-19 infections and related health issues among staff, supply chain disruptions and inflationary pressures. But it’s time to move anti-racism efforts back to the front burner. Organizations that don’t have DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) plans that specifically address anti-Black racism and other forms of racism are likely to lose a competitive edge over those that do. And for those organizations that have established plans, HR teams must mobilize and take steps to put those plans into action.
Stronger commitments and targets to hire and promote more Black people into leadership positions. Company targets need to be realistic, achievable and somewhat proportional to the overall population. This will look different for every company and industry and region, but without a road map, progress is unlikely. Targets should also have clear and measurable outcomes and accountability mechanisms built in. Companies also need to be intentional in the way they recruit Black employees. This includes directly reaching out to Black professional and on-campus organizations to promote new and upcoming opportunities.
In the last two years, many Canadian companies have taken an important first step to raise awareness of anti-Black racism in society and in their organizations.
But now the hard work begins to build an understanding of the issues underpinning inequity so we can drive real sustainable change that breaks down the barriers.
Our work has just begun.
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 here and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.
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