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On being explicit about anti-Black racism in Canada

Experts showcased evidence of systemic discrimination against the Black population in Canada and discussed strategies to eliminate barriers in the workplace
February 16, 2024
Event graphic for the 2024 Leadership & Workplace Equity Congress by the Canadian Congress on Inclusive Diversity and Workplace Equity - Fostering Accountability and Ensuring Sustainability.

The 2024 Leadership & Workplace Equity Congress took place from Jan. 24 to 25 under the theme of “Fostering Accountability and Ensuring Sustainability.” Over 600 people gathered for the two-day event.

If you don't name the problem, you can't forge solutions.

Dr. Wendy Cukier, founder and academic director of the Diversity Institute, research lead for the Future Skills Centre

The Canadian Congress on Inclusive Diversity & Workplace Equity (external link)  organized its annual Leadership and Workplace Equity Congress from Jan. 24 to 25, 2024. The virtual two-day gathering brought together over 600 participants, including diverse leaders and changemakers from various fields, to discuss how to spark change and inspire social justice efforts within businesses, institutions and communities. 

Facilitated by Moy Fung and Henry Luyombya, the session included presentations from experts from around the world, including the host, Alex Nosakhari Ihama (external link) , executive director and CEO of the Canadian Congress of Inclusive Diversity and Workplace Equity (external link) ; Isabelle Hudon, president and CEO of BDC; Patricia E. Green, architect and historian from the University of the West Indies; and Ross Cadastre, founder of Innovative Talent Solutions Inc. and board chair of the Black Business and Professional Association. 

Recognizing the UN's International Decade of People of African Descent (2015–2024) (external link) , Wendy Cukier, founder of the Diversity Institute at the Ted Rogers School of Management and research lead for the Future Skills Centre, highlighted where there has been progress and where gaps remain. Some highlights from the research included:

The United Nations Human Rights Commission expressed serious concerns about the Canadian justice system for the way Black people are treated. Black people in Canada face over-policing and are over-incarcerated. “One of the most devastating indications of the persistence and perniciousness of anti-Black racism is the finding that the Canadian Human Rights Commission had discriminated against (external link)  their Black and racialized employees,” Cukier said.

She added, “One important indicator of progress is the naming of the problem. Governments at all levels and private sector companies now are explicit in their commitments to fighting anti-Black racism. If you don't name the problem, you can't forge solutions.” She also noted important steps, such as the creation of a Black justice strategy and the recommendation to add Black people as well as 2SLGBTQ+ people to the designated groups addressed by Canada’s employment equity legislation. Cukier emphasized the importance of being explicit about anti-Black racism.  


Despite the evidence pointing to systemic discrimination, Cukier said the backlash directed against the Black population and equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) efforts is growing. She pointed to a recent poll from Global News (external link)  where almost one-half of respondents said that diversity is causing Canada to change in ways they don't like.

At the organizational level, there is lots of work to be done, Cukier added. There are reports of upward harassment, microaggressions and unconscious bias. “We have seen Black women rise, despite the odds, into leadership roles, only to be  targeted, held to impossible standards and then pushed over what we refer to as ‘the glass cliff,’” she said.

She added that efforts to advance affirmative action leading to accusations of reverse racism and denial of racism, disengagement from EDI and claims of focusing on merit instead of race are just some of the barriers that Black people are increasingly facing.

The way forward

To drive change, Cukier emphasized that commitment at the societal, organizational and individual levels is needed. At the societal level, she said ensuring policies and regulations are enabling and supportive is important. 

Programs like the BlackNorth Initiative (external link)  and the 50 – 30 Challenge (external link) , in which DI is an ecosystem partner, have made a difference. These are voluntary codes that encourage organizations to achieve greater representation of equity-deserving groups on boards and in senior leadership positions. At the organizational level, Cukier recommends tools like the Diversity Assessment Tool (DAT) (external link) , which can help companies and organizations set EDI goals and embed commitments around anti-Black racism into every part of the organization. 

Above all, Cukier invited individuals and leaders to take accountability and action to drive change. She recommended the Micropedia of Microaggressions, (external link)  a tool developed by DI, the Black Business and Professional Association (external link) , Canadian Congress on Inclusive Diversity and Workplace Equity (external link)  and others for unlearning unintentional biases and microaggressions.  

As she concluded, Cukier pointed to education and training as the foundation of social mobility and generational wealth, noting that this is one reason why the Future Skills Centre  (external link) and DI continue to work together toward building an inclusive career-pathing model for Black youth and wraparound supports at every level of their journey to support Black entrepreneurs and Black leadership.