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Friday, September 24, 2021

Workplace racism could make Black, racialized Canadians dread returning to the office

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TORONTO — As vaccination rates rise and COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, many offices are returning to in-person work, but a human resources expert says many racialized workers are dreading it because there is still unaddressed racism in the workplace.

“A lot of what individuals are experiencing has not changed,” Tanya Sinclair, founder of Black Human Resources Professionals of Canada, told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.

Despite many companies’ public pledges against racism last summer, Sinclair said, many workers of colour say issues such as precarious work environments and barriers to promotion still exist.

She added that a return to the office will mean many racialized workers will go back to hiding who they are to fit in and perform for white colleagues – also known as code-switching.

Around 96 per cent of Black Canadians say racism is a concern at work, with 78 per cent saying that the workplace racism they have noticed is severe, a recent York University study found.

Sinclair said that that same survey found that only a small percentage of Black employees were prepared to come back to the office. “If you have not been surveying your employees and asking them how they feel about a return to work, now is the time,” she said.

She said that Black, Indigenous and other racialized people working from home have been able to avoid the racism they experience when physically sitting alongside co-workers “who are well-meaning but who don’t understand their lived experiences.”

Sinclair strongly urged companies to maintain flexibility when it came to working from home.

“It’s no longer optional, it’s something that’s required. We have to redefine and unlearn the workplaces as we knew [them] before,” she said.

REMOTE WORK ALSO MEANS LESS FACE TIME WITH BOSSES

But Sinclair said many racialized workers have noted that remote work have also exacerbated barriers to career advancement because there’s a lack of face time with higher-ups.

“You can feel a bit more invisible in this new workplace, where we’re primarily remote,” she said.

“You’re not able to bump into that [vice-president] in the elevator, or while you’re grabbing a coffee, to showcase your talents,” Sinclair said. “Those conversations very often lead to getting noticed and potentially to career promotion.”

According to a survey earlier this year, no Black or Indigenous women are on track for executive roles in many of the biggest companies in Canada, and not a lot has been done to address that.

Growing evidence shows that other systemic racist barriers continue to exist, including barriers to financing and a lack of advancement opportunities for racialized workers overall — with a recent Globe and Mail investigation finding that a lot of companies have shown little progress on diversity and ending anti-Black systemic racism.

A recent study found that nearly 80 per cent of Black Canadians say racism has damaged their relationship with their employer, with two-thirds of South Asian employees echoing the same sentiment. Other racialized workers have lamented a continued lack of protections against racism and racist threats.

Sinclair said that if companies haven’t done so already, they need to acknowledge the experience of racialized workers is unique; overhaul hiring and promotional policies; expand the pool of job candidates; and offer more pay, especially to those in precarious work.

She said all of this will make in-person workplaces far more appealing to Black and other racialized workers.

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