In Corporate Canada, diversity and inclusion are amongst the most talked about goals of almost every organization. The goal of this is to create a diverse work environment that reflects society and helps organizations achieve their goals. This is a step in the right direction because HR Managers are more intentional about getting more people of colour into the workforce. Having said that, racism plagues the workplace in Canada which can make it difficult to do your job as a black professional. Being black in corporate Canada comes with a lot of struggle in order to thrive.
I requested a few black employees in Canada to share their experience in the workplace as I delve into the struggles of the everyday black professional in Canada.
I understand that companies have a diversity and inclusion goal to meet, but no black person wants to feel like a diversity hire. It might feel like you’re not hired for your skills, but to meet some diversity quota. It sometimes comes across as they are more interested in bringing people of colour into the door than in creating an environment where black employees can thrive.
Initially, I was so appreciative of the fact that organizations are finally doing something about hiring more people of colour but have found that it is more to their advantage as they stand to gain a lot from the diverse hires as they can use your experience to create/improve a service or product for people in the minority race.
Working Twice As Hard
It is not uncommon to find yourself working twice as hard as a black professional only to get half as far in the workplace. This brings the question as to how hard work is rewarded in a predominantly white workplace. Having to keep up with this work ethic can be really stressful and can affect one’s mental health. If the leadership within a company is majorly filled with white people, the selection process for rewarding hard work is set up for bias.
“For the most part, my experience working in corporate Canada as a black person has been exciting. One key area I have noticed over the years is the genuine effort and commitment employers put into creating a welcoming space for you. It’s not perfect yet, but you see the interest in making you feel you are a part of the system and that the unique experience and perspective you have matters.
A lot of times I find myself working with people who have a different background and orientation compared to mine, and as the multicultural country that Canada is, I have also learned greatly from these people.
There are also values and ethics guiding responsible behaviour and the conduct of both employers and other co-workers. These provide some level of protection for every employee or the avenues to seek redress when there is a need for one.
This notwithstanding, I have seen elements of microaggressions in certain instances in the past. This is often so subtle that you are left wondering if it’s just in your head, or you’re being too sensitive or misinterpreting situations. But knowing that there are structures in place to address such concerns – no matter how small they may seem – is an encouraging part of my experience working in Canada.” – Olu
Being a person of colour at a predominantly white workplace creates its own special kinds of stress. As a black professional, it is the microaggression that you experience that kind of makes you do everything at all cost to not experience it again. For example, you are in a boardroom all set for a meeting and as a black woman who switched hairstyles over the weekend, someone can decide to point it out right before a meeting in a room filled with white people, that you have a new hairstyle and ask how long it took for you to make such hair. This makes you the center of attention and with everyone’s stares, this nudges you to give a response.
Despite the increase in the African / Black Canadian community, this does not change the challenges black professionals face working in a predominantly white environment. Some organizations love that you possess skills that can move their organization forward but they still can’t handle your blackness. I have had a manager tell me once to not be in contact with clients over the phone. The manager implied I was better off communicating with clients via emails due to my Nigerian accent and any phone call from the clients should be passed to a white co-worker.
I have found myself feigning interest in what my white co-workers are discussing especially when I am the only person of colour in a boardroom meeting and I don’t want to be tagged as a black anti-social person. There are times when they chit-chat right before the kick-off of a meeting, cracking jokes and in my head, while I don’t get the jokes, I have to fake a smile or laugh so they can see I am making an effort.
It is not all bad…
Thankfully with the goal of diversity and inclusion, it makes such boardrooms bearable. With more people of colour in the room, our white counterparts are forced to acknowledge and learn about black people’s culture & tradition. This creates an environment for bonding and mutual respect without having to fake it. I never knew it would mean so much to me that non-Nigerians would be able to pronounce my name right when I joined an organization filled with diverse people.
Bonding is essential in the workplace
Bonding in the workplace is essential; it helps to create a beautiful atmosphere and safe work environment. Connecting with people that are different from you can be challenging especially if you are the one who is different. As a black person, if you are struggling to bond with your co-workers, it is important to make the effort to step out of your comfort zone by participating in work events.
I know a lot of black people struggle with opening up at work in a variety of ways which includes talking about your life outside of work. Remember that now you are in Canada, building relationships is important. Conversation and familiarity help you to bond with co-workers.
Here a few areas of interest your white co-workers will most likely bond with you over :
- American or Canadian Politics
- Their Partners / Spouse
- Their Kids/ Pet
Being black in Corporate Canada means organizations have to create a safe work environment. and accept black people as who they are and We are people with accents, potatoes are not our main dish, some of us don’t own any pets and we are just truly trying to make a better life for ourselves and our family.