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Raj Lala, president and CEO of Evolve Funds, has watched the progress of hiring people of colour in the financial services industry since the early 2000s.handout

With the challenges facing people of colour at the forefront, The Globe and Mail asked business leaders to reflect on their experience – and what needs to change.

Walking out along Bay Street to grab lunch almost 20 years ago was a very different experience for me than what it is today. I can clearly remember my first week working in downtown Toronto. I walked out of Brookfield Place and began a 10-minute walk. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had only seen one other visible minority in about 100 people. It was in that moment that I realized Bay Street firms were not representative of the population of the Greater Toronto Area.

Immigrating to Canada in 1975 and growing up in Mississauga, Ont., I had never felt like I was singled out. I was never treated any different among the kids at my school, despite my sister and I being the only Indian children in the playground.

The only time I recall experiencing racism as a child was on a family trip to New York when my mother was called a racial slur by a department store employee.

But after selling my first company to a large financial organization in the early 2000s, I started to hear comments from others in the industry about how “surprised” they were that I had managed to finalize the deal “considering I was a minority.”

That was a big eye opener for me and I realized there still was a level of racism that existed in the corporate world.

Bay Street has come a long way since then. Today, I don’t feel as if I am treated any different because of the colour of my skin or my race. There has been an evolution in the past decade where we began to see minorities getting hired in 2010 – although they were still in very junior positions.

Now, there has been a pivot in the industry where senior management has begun to focus more on the most qualified candidate rather than the candidate that they can relate most to. That is progress.

Raj Lala, CEO of Evolve ETFs, has watched the progress of hiring people of colour in the financial services industry since the early 2000s.

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