'Put the right enablement in place — whether it's training, providing them with their own project where they can succeed'
Three years ago, the BlackNorth Initiative saw close to 500 signatories from across Canada sign a pledge with a strong commitment to addressing anti-Black racism in corporate Canada.
And while many organizations are re-evaluating their processes and policies to meet the pledge’s 2025 deadline, systemic change takes time and must be sustained, according to Brenda New, partner in EY Canada's consulting practice.
For Black people themselves, one problem is lack of awareness, she said, as most “don't have a generation of parents or relatives who have worked in the corporate world to refer to.”
But employers can take intentional actions in three specific categories to help drive long-term results and fundamental change, said New.
When it comes to recruitment, employers must explore possible sources of talent other than the traditional ones, said New, in talking with HRD, which means asking, “Are we going to the right sources to really identify the candidates that we need in order to build this future workforce that is diverse?”
This means looking beyond the usual suspects, including those that come from private schools, she said.
“We need to make sure we're going to those schools where there's a huge variety of different kids that are coming up.”
In addition, recruiters must showcase to those kids that it’s possible for them to succeed in the corporate world, and “forge relationships with those education institutions” through coaching mentorship deals, said New.
Then, during the interview process, recruiters must ask themselves some essential questions, she said, like" Are we being fair? How are we presenting ourselves? Are we allowing them to be treated fairly and equitably? Are we allowing them to be naturally who they are?"
Immigrants tend to do worse when it comes to finding a suitable job compared with non-immigrants, according to a report from RBC.
Culture of belonging
Once Black workers have joined the company, employers must foster a culture of belonging, said New. And onboarding is a crucial part of that.
Ensuring that these workers have a coach or mentor and a buddy who can help them understand the inner workings of the company is important, she said.
It’s also important for employers to find workers who, internally, feel that they do not belong and help them adapt. And employers cannot just assume that these new workers have that positive feeling, said New.
“Find a way of pulling that information up out of them. And then just put the right enablement in place — whether it's training, shadowing [from] someone who can give them that experience of belonging, providing them with their own project where they can succeed.”
And when Black workers do succeed, make sure that they are celebrated and recognized by their peers, she said.
“The biggest way of feeling a sense of belonging is recognition for what you do well.”
Retention for diversity
Ensuring a high level of retention of Black workers is the third point of focus for employers. And this is tied to creating that culture of belonging and recognition, said New.
“If [Black workers are] doing exceptionally well and they feel valued, retention is going to be higher, because they know they’re needed, they’re adding value.”
Black workers – and workers in general – are also likely to leave if they do not feel that they belong, she said.
To ensure that these workers stay, employers must touch base with employees through pulse checks. Having affinity groups or support groups can also help “because they tend to be very safe spaces,” said New, and they provide “an additional sense of belonging… to the big tribe.”
Sixty percent of HR professionals in Canada have diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the works.
But even if employers achieve their specific goals of including Black and other workers of diverse backgrounds, they should not see that as the end, said New.
“Goals are great. They put a stake in the ground. But it shouldn't be just viewed as ‘I've achieved my goal’."
Diversity efforts should be “part of the fiber of who you are as an organization,” she said.
“Just as much as you go to work and say, ‘I need to drive the bottom line; I need to deliver on profits,’ you need to deliver on those things as part of your wider ESG program… This should be seen as a forever goal.”