In 1984, Canadian judge Rosalie Abella, later appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, chaired a commission that explored equality in Canadian workplaces. Her report became the 1986 Employment Equity Act, and its stated goal was “to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person shall be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability and … to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women, [Indigenous] peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities by giving effect to the principle that employment equity means more than treating persons in the same way but also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences.”
Thirty-five years later, we have yet to accomplish workplace equity.
Hiring bias has remained largely unchanged for racialized Canadians. According to a 2019 article published in the journal Sociological Science, out of nine western countries, Canada ranks in the top five for racist hiring practices. The study’s authors looked at 200,000 job applications to determine whether there was a difference in who received call-backs between similarly qualified minority and white candidates.
The study found that white Canadians received 44 per cent more callbacks than their minority counterparts, better than only Great Britain (55 per cent), Sweden (65 per cent) and France (83 per cent)— and worse than the U.S. (33 per cent).
That’s not just bad for Black Canadians, it’s bad for everyone.
“Inclusion of Black people at all levels of our economy is a win-win for businesses,” says Verlyn Francis, an Ontario arbitrator and principal at Isiko Resolutions, a consultancy specializing in conflict resolution, culture, diversity and inclusion. “Numerous studies have shown that when you have diverse voices at the table, better and more profitable decisions are made. To get there, however, businesses have to break the vicious circle that perpetuates exclusion and compromises their profitability.”
According to Francis, who has written a report on the role history and public policy play in the inability to even acknowledge racial discrimination, Black job seekers face systemic obstacles due to unconscious discrimination from people whose actions are governed by unfounded assumptions and negative stereotypes.
In order to hire the most qualified people who are also Black professionals, companies need to root out unconscious bias and proactively seek change. Here’s how.
1. Attract Black candidates early in the recruitment process
Companies should outsource this task to Black recruiters or DEI-focused (diversity, equity and inclusion) HR agencies to ensure they’re recruiting from diverse ecosystems.
“If you have a recruitment team that is predominantly white, Canadian and university- educated, these three social groups can impact your recruitment practices. The team is more likely to recruit white, Canadian and university-educated individuals,” says Camille Dundas, co-founder of Canada’s largest Black Canadian online magazine, ByBlacks.com, and a DEI consultant who specializes in anti-racism and allyship.
“Those who exist outside of these groups will be negatively impacted by this bias and the impact is significant on how they experience the workplace.”
Organizations should also expand their focus, Dundas says. “Very often, companies don’t build relationships at the high school level, but instead start with those who have already joined university, so they are failing to build great candidates early on. Consider supporting BIPOC club initiatives and engaging with them in spaces that they already feel safe.”
2. Look beyond your existing networks
Companies should not rely on their executive team’s network or judgment alone, they should pull from existing resources at hand, including Employee Resource Groups (ERG). These are voluntary, employee-led groups that aim to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve. They often exist for marginalized employees to provide support, career development and connection through a common cause or interest, but they can also be a powerful recruitment tool.
“The greatest discriminatory hurdle against Black job seekers is still the hurdle of access,” says LeRoy Briggs, a professional career coach and employment developer at HueMax Recruitment, which sources primarily Black talent from the African Diaspora. “There is a hidden job market and it’s accessed when a former colleague, friend or manager refers a candidate to a role that has not been advertised. Employers looking to attract more diversely should recognize that there may be candidates beyond their purview—the new introverted employee, the graduate who lacks connections to the industry or the newcomer to the city. That is why employer-employee engagement is so vital for thriving organizations: it expands access.”
Black job portals and niche Slack communities can also help companies find candidates. Organizations such as BPTN (Black Professionals in Tech Network) and HUE have built a community around connecting Black and racialized candidates to career opportunities that are otherwise not made available to them.
3. Prioritize diverse candidate pools throughout the business
“The most persistent issue of them all [is] recruiting for diversity, the ‘other,’” says Anika Holder, vice-president of human resources at Penguin Random House Canada. “It will take conscious and deliberate effort by all people in a company to uncover, challenge and dismantle these particular outcomes.”
One way to do that? Put a dollar amount on diversity efforts. Several companies, including Microsoft, Intel, IBM and most recently McDonald’s and Google, are now linking their executives’ compensation to how well the company meets its diversity goals.
4. Create a sponsorship program that helps Black employees progress in the organization
Employers often forget recruitment is a two-way street. They should do some digging to find out what Black professionals are looking for—and more importantly, what prevents people from applying to roles.
For example, many Black job seekers are interested in formal sponsorship programs, according to research conducted by CivicAction and Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Black employees are five times more likely than white employees to describe sponsorship (someone who is invested and helps in career advancement) as ‘the most effective program for racial/ ethnic diversity and inclusion’ that their company could put in place, according to a December 2020 report. Yet a 2019 survey found that only 11 per cent of Canadians say their company has a formal sponsorship program.
Although racial bias continues to lurk in hiring decisions, businesses can leverage the benefits of such initiatives and use a range of marketing tactics to promote the DEI efforts in their hiring process.
Published one year after the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing global reckoning over anti-Black racism, the Time for Change special report is intended to amplify the voices of Black leaders, while shedding light on the work that still needs to be done to combat systemic inequalities across infrastructure, employment and other facets of daily life.