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Leslie Woo, CivicAction

Leslie Woo

CEO, CivicAction

Nan DasGupta, Boston Consulting Group

Nan DasGupta

Senior Partner & Managing Director, Boston Consulting Group

Knowledge, awareness, leadership, and accountability are helping Canadian organizations take concrete action to become more diverse, equitable, and resilient.


Ask non-racialized Canadians about anti-Black racism in Canada and they may tell you that it’s old news or an American problem. However, Black Canadians will tell you that racism exists and that it’s pervasive. “It’s important to dispel the myth that we’re impervious to racism here in Canada,” says Leslie Woo, CEO of CivicAction, a non-profit civic engagement organization operating out of the Toronto and Hamilton area.

Examining the systemic racism of our workplace structures

This gap in understanding in non-Black or non-racialized individuals was one of the key drivers behind a recent report that CivicAction undertook in partnership with Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The report focuses on four areas — education, employment, health care, and policing — and identifies the problems while also identifying potential solutions.

The challenges and barriers that Black Canadians encounter in the workplace are vast and this isn’t new data. “Black Canadians are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed than non-racialized Canadians,” says Woo. “Data shows that 70–85% of open positions are filled through networking and relationships, but that Black Canadians are less networked. Amongst other findings, we also saw that Black Canadians earn $0.80 for every $1 earned by non-racialized Canadians, even when both groups have university degrees.”

“There is a disconnect in what many Canadians want to believe and the lived reality that many Black people in Canada face. Our hope with this report is to spur more awareness and action to reduce systemic barriers facing Black people in Canada today,” says Nan DasGupta, Senior Partner and Managing Director at BCG.

Black Canadians are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed than non-racialized Canadians.

Leslie Woo, CivicAction

Promising practices for better workplace cultures

The report also delves into solutions. “We did research with BCG on what we refer to as promising practices,” says Woo, “identifying places where organizations were successfully able to address the structural barriers.”

Organizations can take clear steps to expand diversity and improve their workplace culture. “Within job postings, shifting from degree-based criteria to skills-based criteria has an impact, especially for youth,” says Woo. “Also, many resume-screening processes have been proven to disproportionately filter out Black applicants. There’s a need to train hiring teams on diversity, equity, and inclusion practices and on ways to overcome their unintentional biases. For instance, having diverse interview hiring panels helps to reduce the amount of implicit bias.”

Woo also notes the importance of retaining Black employees and giving them the ability to succeed. Proper on-boarding practices and providing opportunities for mentorship and ongoing skills training are essential in supporting Black employees’ career advancement.

A free tool that helps diversify your entry-level talent pool

The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is going to be key to our Country’s economic future. For example, as the second-largest employment zone in Canada, Peel Region has an important role to play in lifting our economy and people up, especially our future workforce.

A first step can be looking at your entry-level practices. CivicAction’s free HireNext tool helps employers attract and retain diverse, young talent. Using HireNext, organizations assess their hiring practices and then receive three customized suggested actions to take. “We have also asked employers who’ve taken the assessment to make a further commitment with us to actually act on the recommendations, and in so doing they become a HireNext employer,” says Woo. That list of employers who have made a public commitment is now over 50 organizations.

An employer’s accountability to themselves or to CivicAction is a concrete way to sustain diversity practices and ensure measurable progress. “Change requires leadership and if you’re trying to truly become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization, as a leader you must take bold steps and not just check boxes,” says Woo.

Read CivicAction’s report on anti-Black racism in Canada and take the online assessment to become a HireNext employer today.

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