On June 6th, CivicAction held a space for 2020 DiverseCity Fellows to discuss the ongoing issues of systemic racism in our region. It was an exercise in vulnerability, active listening, empathy, and critical thinking on subject matter that often can be uncomfortable and difficult to address.
The Fellows session focused on how diverse leaders are feeling emotionally, the questions being reflecting on, and how we can better align ourselves with existing work in this space. The following is a brief summary of thoughts, ideas, and perspectives on the systemic racism affecting Black, Indigenous, and people of color in our communities.
DiverseCity Fellows are feeling frustrated and skeptical.
- Long Overdue Attention: Systemic racism in Canada has existed forever, but society is just now giving the issue the attention it deserves.
- Public Opinion: This is the first time many in society are deeply thinking about racism and considering aspects of privilege, but many still choose to believe that a problem does not exist. This can be extremely frustrating for people that experience the barriers created by systemic racism on a daily basis.
- Virtue Signaling: Organizations and companies have released statements about anti-Black racism or the Black Lives Matter movement, but haven’t committed to concrete actions and continue to maintain contradictory policy, governing, and institutional systems and processes.
DiverseCity Fellows are feeling hopeful and activated.
- Corporate Canada: For the first time in our history, we are seeing major organizations having important and authentic conversations about addressing systemic racism. There is a motivation across sectors with companies genuinely asking themselves, “what can we do in this moment?” This momentum has left many Fellows hopeful of a potential “trickle-down effect” that will encourage a larger number of companies and organizations to follow suit.
- Circles of Influence: In the 2020 Fellows’ personal circles, many people are taking steps to better understand and check their privilege and long-held biases. This shift in behaviour and thought has the potential to improve our societal standards of equality, equity, and social justice.
- Youth Population: Young people are activated more than ever both in their physical and online presence.
Taking Action: An Opportunity for Leaders
As leaders who care deeply about impacting change in our communities, senior leaders have an opportunity to take action to eliminate systemic racism in our region. Here are a few thoughts, ideas, and insights that were discussed:
Data Collection and Training
- See what data can be extracted from an employee engagement survey, compensation info, and demographic survey.
- Once you have an understanding of the challenges/issues your organization faces, assign goals and develop types of training to meet those goals.
- Focus part of your training on behaviour and communication skills to help employees better navigate relationships with their peers and clients no matter their background
- Make sure you create a clear action plan forward with milestones for evaluation that considers what your will achieve through staff training and how the journey will continue.
Shifting the Culture
- Put emphasis on shifting workplace culture to better understand diversity and inclusion, so that the responsibility of pushing culture change is not solely left on the shoulders of Black, Indigenous, people of color.
- System Racism is often rooted at the managerial level. Look at who your managers are and don’t hesitate to make changes so that more people of colour are in those positions. This has the ability to change the overall culture of workplaces organically.
- Create opportunities for diverse leaders at the Board level and recruit actively. It’s not solely the responsibility of leaders who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color to find and apply for these opportunities.
- Research what characteristics and lived experience you want on your Board and actively recruit those individuals.
Other Recommendations & Tips
As rising and risen leaders in our communities, we must continue to work towards being better supporters of the anti-racism movement both as participants and allies. As you do so, consider the following:
- Own what you do not know and be prepared to be wrong. When you go into a conversation, own your background, privilege, and come with a sense of humility. Coming to a conversation with vulnerability will open you up to a healthy conversation.
- Recognize that, when it comes to allyship and race-specific initiatives, if you or your circle of influence do not directly interact with racialized groups, you can still support those initiatives indirectly. There is great support that can come from tapping into your circle of influence.
- Approaching conversations and work with good intentions based on community guidelines isn’t enough. As leaders, we must recognize that impact will always take greater weight over intent, and so we must act as participants and allies with that lens.