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Rethink your next big hire: Black people face very real bias and unfair standards


The number of Black people living in Canada has doubled over the past 25 years. However, the unique experiences and diversity of Black communities are often aggregated into the category of “visible minority” and therefore diminished or overlooked. Anti-Black racism in Canadian society persists because it is systemic. It has existed for decades and shows up in many places and spaces, including the workplace. From boardrooms to the front lines, accessing jobs, opportunities and economic mobility for Black Canadians currently isn’t a level playing field. When Statistics Canada released its employment figures for January, Black unemployment was 16.4 per cent – more than seven percentage points higher than the unemployment rate for those who are not visible minorities. Equally concerning is that the Black unemployment rate jumped by 5.5 points in January versus December – putting 42,000 Black Canadians out of work in just one month. This reflects the unequal impact that COVID-19 shutdowns have on Black workers, who are more likely to be employed the service sector.

As Black people look to find new employment, research has identified multiple barriers they must confront that non-racialized applicants do not face.

Networks: Compared with non-racialized job seekers, Black job seekers are 30 per cent less likely to be in a candidate pool via networking – a primary way that people get noticed and get hired.

Unfair standards: A study by the Harvard Business School showed that 65 per cent of employers admit to (unnecessary) credentialism, which disproportionately affects Black job seekers.

Bias: One study, by a graduate student at the University of Toronto, used the same résumé with two differences: whether the applicant had a white-sounding or Black-sounding name, and whether the applicant referred to having a criminal record in their cover letter. “White” applicants with a criminal record still got nearly twice as many calls back as the “Black” applicants with no record.

Leadership matters

There is no single solution that can undo hundreds of years of racism, and solutions will need to come from a wide range of organizations and leaders. Not sure where to start? An inclusive workplace should meet two core human drives: the desire to be unique and the desire to belong. Leaders need to recognize that to create high-performing teams, they must value and support difference. This is an important first step for sustaining inclusive hiring practices.

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