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COVID-19 does discriminate. It acts differently in different communities, especially on the grounds of race, sex, age, or disability. And Black Canadians are more likely to test positive and be hospitalized than any other ethnic group.

In a national survey by Innovative Research Group in partnership with the African-Canadian Civic Engagement Council, 21 per cent of Black Canadians said they knew someone who had died of COVID-19, compared with only 8 per cent of non-Black Canadians. The survey also found that Black Canadians are more likely to work in-person jobs that require them to commute by public transportation and are often in positions without paid leave.

But the health challenges for Black Canadians long predate the pandemic. Everyday systemic discrimination has resulted in exclusion from health care for the Black community. For example, Black Ontarian women are four times less likely to have family doctors than white women in the province.

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These racial disparities in access to care contribute to worse physical and mental health outcomes for the Black population. For instance, Black women are comparatively underscreened for cervical and breast cancer and have three times the rate of diabetes and twice the rate of hypertension of white women in Ontario.

According to a 2020 report by the Public Health Agency of Canada, these numbers are mirrored in communities across the country. The report also finds that the impact of these experiences can result in chronic stress and trauma, which is all too often passed down through generations from structural inequities.

We can take action to address this today.

Greater Inclusion

We know that increasing Black representation and influence in the medical community can help combat long-standing racial bias within health care. Greater inclusion of Black people in the health care sector at all levels helps Black patients feel seen, reflected, and their specific needs cared for. The impact would be improved health outcomes.

The University of Toronto’s medical school provided an opt-in application stream to increase the number of Black medical students, while also providing better support to Black students throughout the program.

The number of Black students admitted grew to 24 in 2020 from 1 in 2017. By including Black voices and experiences in the selection process, effective representation changed the outcomes. Other medical schools could adopt a similar approach.

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More Tailored Care

Offering care that addresses the unique needs of the Black population would further break down the existing barriers to quality health care that Black Canadians face. The introduction of a culturally adapted cognitive behavioural therapy at the Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre in Toronto led to a 90-per-cent reduction in Black women visiting hospital ERs for mental-health issues.

We can follow the example of organizations such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, which recently launched the Dismantling Anti-Black Racism strategy to address disparities in the health care system.

Targeting the Workplace

Ingrained generational trauma is carried by Black employees into the workplace every day. As industry leaders, business owners, and colleagues, we must learn how these unique and additional stresses can affect the presence and performance of Black professionals.

To address this deeply rooted and pervasive issue, we can begin by considering the mental-health supports traditionally given to employees, and work with Black health care professionals to create supports tailored to the community’s unique needs.

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Kindness that Counts

Research from the Boston Consulting Group found that only 6 per cent of total hospital donations in Toronto went to the five hospitals located in neighbourhoods with large Black populations. Corporations and individuals can direct more of their donations to these hospitals or help fund health-focused non-profits that are led by and serving Black communities.

Another lever is to advocate for more race-specific data collection so that we can better understand and address the challenges that Black communities continue to face.

From the operating room to the board room, to the classroom, Black Canadians still face systemic inequalities and deeply rooted racism every day.

Over the past month, we have explored how anti-Black racism is a pervasive issue in our country. Tangible steps that we can all take to combat this issue include updating hiring practices, education opportunities, and creating a more inclusive health care system.

We must push past the collective misconception that racism and discrimination do not happen in a country as diverse as Canada. They exist – that is a fact. By committing to an inclusion agenda, together we can call out and address anti-Black racism.

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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.

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today or follow us at @Globe_Careers.

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