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The number of Black people living in Canada has doubled over the past 25 years. However, the unique experiences and diversity of Black communities are often aggregated into the category of “visible minority” and therefore diminished or overlooked. Anti-Black racism in Canadian society persists because it is systemic. It has existed for decades and shows up in many places and spaces, including the workplace. From boardrooms to the front lines, accessing jobs, opportunities and economic mobility for Black Canadians currently isn’t a level playing field. When Statistics Canada released its employment figures for January, Black unemployment was 16.4 per cent – more than seven percentage points higher than the unemployment rate for those who are not visible minorities. Equally concerning is that the Black unemployment rate jumped by 5.5 points in January versus December – putting 42,000 Black Canadians out of work in just one month. This reflects the unequal impact that COVID-19 shutdowns have on Black workers, who are more likely to be employed the service sector.

As Black people look to find new employment, research has identified multiple barriers they must confront that non-racialized applicants do not face.

Networks: Compared with non-racialized job seekers, Black job seekers are 30-per-cent less likely to be in a candidate pool via networking – a primary way that people get noticed and get hired.

Unfair standards: A study by the Harvard Business School showed that 65 per cent of employers admit to (unnecessary) credentialism, which disproportionately affects Black job seekers.

Bias: One study, by a graduate student at the University of Toronto, used the same résumé with two differences: whether the applicant had a white-sounding or Black-sounding name, and whether the applicant referred to having a criminal record in their cover letter. “White” applicants with a criminal record still got nearly twice as many calls back as the “Black” applicants with no record.

Leadership matters

There is no single solution that can undo hundreds of years of racism, and solutions will need to come from a wide range of organizations and leaders. Not sure where to start? An inclusive workplace should meet two core human drives: the desire to be unique and the desire to belong. Leaders need to recognize that to create high-performing teams, they must value and support difference. This is an important first step for sustaining inclusive hiring practices.

Below is a sample of actions that organizations can take related to hiring practices. These have worked in other locations, or for other equity deserving groups. Applying them broadly in Canada could help address discrimination.

Networks, start at the source: Make sure you have built the right pipeline, meeting potential candidates where they are. For example, consider partnering with community agencies or professional networks that work specifically with Black communities to source candidates who may not otherwise be in your talent pool or network.

Unfair standards, applying a better filter: Ensure that neither human nor technology résumé screening processes are disproportionately screening out Black candidates. Advertise for the candidate you really need – look at skills and experience over degrees and remove language that may deter Black candidates. For example, Johnson & Johnson saw a 9-per-cent increase in the number of women applying for roles after using software that adjusted job postings and removed gender-coded language, business jargon and laundry lists of skill sets not required.

Bias, remove blind spots and personal opinion: When interviewing, make sure the hiring panel is representative and the process is standardized. Ensure every candidate is asked the same set of questions to remove implicit bias. Avoid concepts such as “the right fit,” which may be inherently biased or skewed toward hiring candidates whose profiles mirror your own.

Measure – twice: Consider collecting disaggregated race-based data. However, not just data on representation, but also on the level of effort, financial commitment, training and development that your organization has given Black employees to ensure these measures are not biased and support career progression. This is key to identify barriers created in your systems, processes and leadership behaviours.

Decide what you can do to effect change within your organization, track progress and ask yourself what’s next.


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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 tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

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