Workplace inclusivity starts with acknowledging systemic racism: report

Canadian businesses are grappling with how to move forward with conversations around race.

“In order to affect the systemic changes needed to foster inclusivity, we will need collective learning and unlearning, challenging ourselves to embrace innovative, equitable and inclusive practices going forward,” said Jon Love, chief executive officer of KingSett Capital, in a webinar hosted by Realpac and other real estate industry groups, on Monday.

“I also believe it will take our industry as a whole coming together to share ideas and engage in discussions like we’re having today to embrace and champion the changes we all seek.”

Read: Addressing racism as an employer must begin with listening

A key component to addressing racism in the workplace is simply starting with admitting it does exist in Canada, something many Canadians are reticent to do, said Farrah Khimji, president of Toronto CREW, a networking organization for women in the commercial real estate industry. “Having been in the commercial real estate industry for over 10 years now, as both a woman and ethnic minority, I have experienced first hand the challenges that has brought. . . . I know we like to think here in Canada that we don’t have racism in our workplaces or that we don’t face discrimination based on gender or ethnicity; I can tell you first hand this is my experience.

“As a senior leader in one of my previous roles, I was often mistaken for the receptionist and have been asked to hang coats, to make coffee, to mail out packages, to take minutes. And while I know how to do those tasks and often would just proceed to do those tasks, that was not my role and it was most certainly not something that was asked of my white, male counterparts.”

Suggesting that systemic racism isn’t real is an injustice to the lived experience of those who live with its impacts every day, she added.

“It’s a micro invalidation when we deny that there is systemic racism here in Canada and we look to the U.S. and say, ‘Well, at least we’re not that bad,'” said Karlyn Percil-Mercieca, chief executive officer of KDPM Consulting Group, which specializes in equity, diversity and inclusion.

Read: Canadian pensions, consultants, institutional investors sign pledge to tackle anti-Black racism

Many Canadians just aren’t aware of the country’s history of racial intolerance, she added, noting Canada’s role in the transatlantic slave trade is often totally disregarded, as is the history of how Canada’s policies towards racialized peoples have moved and shifted to get to where they are today.

“It’s painful and it continues the dehumanization of the Black individual,” said Percil-Mercieca.

In understanding racism as a systematic reality, it’s important to remember race is a social construct, which has been used to justify the mistreatment of individuals slotted into a particular group, she added. When translating this idea to a business environment, Canadian workplaces haven’t been established with an understanding of the specific needs of marginalized groups. “Black individuals, Indigenous individuals — we don’t necessarily have that psychological safety because the workplace is not set up to ensure that all lives actually matter.”

Percil-Mercieca noted the majority of white individuals making up corporate Canada’s leadership need to dive deep into the history and experiences of racialized people in order to lead others equitably. “If you have not paused to ask, ‘Who’s not in the room? Whose voice is not being heard? And am I truly representing the public that I serve within my organization?’ then it means you’ve just been complicit in keeping and upholding some of the systemic barriers.”

Read: OPB outlines commitment to stand against anti-Black, anti-Indigenous racism