BlackNorth Initiative was formed last month. As many of these, it was in response to the killing of George Floyd. But anti-Black racism is (sadly) not a new issue.
Their goal? To increase the representation of people who are Black around Canada’s Boardroom tables and among executive suites. They held a Summit on Monday and more than 200 Canadian leaders signed the pledge.
Their launch announcement made some bold (and necessary) statements by its leaders. I’m including some snippets from Founder Wess Hall and his team below. You can read more in the announcement here.
Powerful Thoughts for Change
“For companies who consider themselves diverse, hold that statement up against your board and your executive team – how many Blacks do you see?” – Wess Hall (founder)
“As allies and business leaders, it is incumbent on each of us to understand the barriers that exist, take accountability for increasing representation of Black leaders within our organizations, and commit to doing our part to eradicating racism in all its forms.” – Victor Dodig
“As business leaders in Canada, we have a responsibility to not only recognize that anti-Black systemic racism exists in this country but also take meaningful steps to end it.” – Prem Watsa
“Leadership is an action, not a title – it’s time for Canadian leaders to act and dismantle systemic racism and discrimination, period.” – Rola Dagher
Inclusion is Crucial
The key is that the people with the institutional power have to make the decision and the commitment to literally change the face of corporate leadership in this country.
This is exciting and I’m hoping it’s going to lead to some real change.
And… making sure people who are Black are at the table is only one part – ensuring that those tables are truly inclusive is what will carry this forward and create meaningful change. To do that, we need awareness of what systemic anti-Black racism is and looks like.
Change Requires Awareness
The leaders of BlackNorth Initiative are saying all of the right things. And having company leadership pledge for change can be powerful. But only if the pledge is grounded in awareness, is followed by real and meaningful action, and if there is accountability.
Real and meaningful action require awareness. So here are a few questions for you if you are a company leader:
Do you know what systemic anti-Black racism looks like in business? In your company?
Are you able to see how it creeps into your policies and practices – or their disregard?
Do you notice the ways the devaluing of black skin shows up in who is considered, chosen, asked, heard and taken seriously?
Are you able to see how systemic anti-Black racism has shaped your company thus far?
Knowing the answers to these questions (and others) is the type of awareness that challenging and eradicating anti-Black racism requires. Then, this awareness needs to be put into action. This is more than a pledge, reading a book, or hiring people with darker skin.
Leaders must act!
Rola Dagher is quoted as saying in the BlackNorth Initiative launch document that “Leadership is an action, not a title – it’s time for Canadian leaders to act and dismantle systemic racism and discrimination, period.”
Leaders must act, because they hold the power and are – as Wess Hall is quoted as saying – the gatekeepers. And, this is also work for all of us.
If you are not a company leader, I encourage you to build your awareness, notice, ask questions, and keep your leadership accountable to their commitments regarding dismantling systemic (anti-Black) racism (or encourage them to make commitments if they haven’t yet).
If you are a leader, I encourage you to find ways to build your awareness, to strengthen your inclusive leadership muscles specific to anti-Black racism, so you can act and make real and meaningful changes in your organization that will help to shape a new corporate culture in Canada. A culture that not only includes people who are Black in positions of leadership, but a culture that feels different because it truly values the contributions of people who are Black.
That’s more than a statement or a pledge.
To learn more about our educational programs dedicated to raising awareness and understanding about anti-Black racism, or our Inclusive Leadership Program, book a call here.