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Diversity and inclusion are terms increasingly on everyone’s lips, used when companies talk about themselves and their work, or to attract more business and new talent. But there is still a vast ocean of difference between using the right words and actually acting on the commitments that they require.

Many Canadians believe that our country is a model of inclusion – at least compared to our neighbours to the south. But the sad truth is that while we’ve turned the page to 2021, we still have a long way to go towards achieving equity for the Black population in Canada. A 2019 survey showed that nearly half of Canadians believe discrimination against Black people is “no longer a problem,” even as 83 per cent of Black people in Canada say they are treated unfairly at least some of the time.

The data exists; it’s been studied and published many times. We know Black Canadians have been living with relentless inequality for decades. But it has taken painful events, such as the killing of George Floyd and the way the COVID-19 pandemic has created even greater economic and social inequality, to move people to act differently.

Diversity is about numbers and representation; inclusion is culture and choice. We have a systemic problem running deep across many facets of life – one that will require not just representation but rather all people, all sectors and sustained actions to change that culture.

CivicAction and consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reviewed and compiled existing data on anti-Black racism in Canada. Below is just a snapshot from the full report.


Education is considered the grand equalizer, but that is not the reality for Black students. In Toronto, the dropout rate for Black students is 23 per cent, compared to 12 per cent for White students. One reason is that across Canada, there are nearly 50-per-cent fewer Black teachers than we might expect based on population. Recent studies show that having a Black teacher can decrease the probability of Black students dropping out by 29 per cent. Bias also comes into play, with a study finding that teachers in Ontario were twice as likely to rate a White student as “excellent” than a Black student – even when they have the same standardized test scores. As a result of many factors, Black students achieve lower levels of education. As such, one thing employers can do is to consider hiring for skills over credentials.


Racism in the workforce creates barriers to employment and impairs career progression. For example, one Toronto study that took identical résumés but changed the applicant names to make one “Black-sounding” found that résumé received three times fewer callbacks. When Black people do succeed in finding a job, systemic racism in the workplace can result in them butting up against a concrete ceiling. Black employees have low rates of sponsorship – someone who can put them forward for opportunities – and often come up against hidden biases in promotion processes. The result? Black leaders hold less than one per cent of executive roles and board seats at major Canadian companies. One action organizations can take to address these issues is to strengthen sponsorship and succession planning to support Black colleagues. Black employees are five times more likely than their white colleagues to describe sponsorship as “the most effective program for racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion” that their company could put in place.

Waiting rooms

Data from Ontario show certain health conditions are much more prevalent in the Black population. In one national survey, 21 per cent of Black Canadians said they knew someone who had died of COVID-19, compared to 8 per cent of non-Black Canadians. But the challenge extends well beyond COVID-19. Black women in the province have three times the rate of diabetes compared to white women. A major driver of such health outcomes is the lack of access to care; barriers include worse-equipped hospitals in Black neighbourhoods in Toronto, less-flexible jobs (Black Torontonians are two times more likely to be “working poor” than white Torontonians) and fear of racism from health care providers caused by a lack of culturally appropriate care. Consider how the stress around accessing care may impact your Black colleagues and employees.

Canadian companies, governments and individuals can deepen their commitment, accountability and action to address anti-Black racism. As a starting point, explore the promising practices identified. Beyond learning, act on tangible steps – and then do even more.


Leslie Woo is the CEO of CivicAction, a non-profit civic engagement organization. She is the leadership lab columnist for February 2021.

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 and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

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