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Monday, September 27, 2021

‘Time will tell’ if anti-racist pledges over summer will close gender gap, expert warns

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TORONTO —
“Time will tell” if companies’ anti-racism pledges from this past summer close the gender gap for Black, Indigenous, and racialized women of colour, a diversity expert says.

“What I saw over the summer were a lot of organizations [that] were quick to release statements, quick to jump to action,” Golnaz Golnaraghi, founder of Accelerate Her Future, a career accelerator for Black, Indigenous, and racialized women, told CTV News.ca in a phone interview on Sunday.

But she said words and pledges alone “can be problematic potentially,” without concrete action plans and goals in universities, private companies, executive boards, charities and governments.

“It’s really important to pause, understand, and make sure that you’re doing the work internally, as much as it’s important to make these statements,” Golnaraghi said.

She warned that because there are few Black, Indigenous, and women of colour [BIWOC] in senior positions, women of colour at entry-level or middle-management levels will have a difficult time getting advice and help to reach those positions.

“What that means is that when they are being mentored, their mentors tend to be at lower levels and may not have the decision-making influence or power to be able to actually sponsor [BIWOC] and help advocate for those larger projects, more visible projects that lead to promotion,” Golnaraghi told CTV News Channel on Sunday.

Studies show there are huge benefits to a senior colleague showing the ropes to newer, younger workers and sponsoring them for new opportunities. A 2019 study from advocacy group Lean In shows that need is “especially impactful for women of colour, who are less likely to receive career guidance from managers and senior leaders.”

A 2009 U.S. study found 62 per cent of women of colour surveyed reported that a lack of an influential mentor holds them back. And that need for mentorship is crucial as evidence suggests people who receive mentoring are more likely to be promoted.

Golnaraghi’s firm helps women of colour to break through and advance into places of leadership within the fields of business and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“We have been talking about it for decades and we’re just not moving the dial,” she laments, noting that more firms need to be blunter when it comes to addressing equity and anti-racism. “I think that diversity and inclusion conversations have gone only so far.”

“There’s a labyrinth of barriers that BIWOC navigate from that very, very first promotion,” Golnaraghi explained. Studies have found this includes not only a lack of mentors, but also microaggressions, double standards, and unconscious bias.

So Golnaraghi said any new program, policies, practices, or inclusion initiatives looking to combat this, have to be specific to the groups they’re setting out to help; and be co-designed by Black, Indigenous and racialized women themselves.

“Whose needs are being served? Who’s at the table making those decisions? Whose voices are not there?” she said, urging firms to examine their “structural and institutional practices a lot more deeply.”

“We really need to pause and look at the data and really understand the experience [and] what’s really happening at the intersection for Black, Indigenous and racialized women and how their experiences are very different and how to tailor programming,” Golnaraghi told CTVNews.ca.

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