Systemic Racism: Canada’s biggest problem

By Karl Lewis |Scribe

WHEN I FIRST GOT THIS JOB, SIX OTHER BLACK PEOPLE CAME IN AND APPLIED FOR OTHER VACANT POSITIONS. I WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO GOT HIRED”

The impact that racism has on the employment rate among Black Canadians

Catalyst, a non-profit organization recently conducted research about workplace biases and found that Black Canadians among other racialized groups, on average, are faced with the most discrimination when job security becomes a concern. With the increasing usage of their diversity and inclusion surveys before hire, many companies believe this would rid of discrimination, but the practice continues. 

In 2020, Starbucks told its employees that if they are seen wearing anything that says “Black Lives Matter or BLM,” disciplinary actions will be taken against them. Even though this decision was quickly overturned after significant backlash, the question remains —  what does BLM being temporarily banned from one of the biggest chain coffeehouses in the world, with 500 stores all across Ontario, say to potential Black employees? 

Do Black lives really matter to these “diverse” companies that continue to be reluctant to hire or support black people?

Trey Stewart, a retail worker in the Niagara Region, knows all about being the odd-one-out. 

“When I first got this job, six other black people came in and applied for other vacant positions. I was the only one who got hired,” he said. 

Stewart has been with the company for five years, and within a year of transferring from Toronto to western Ontario, he had only seen “one black female hired,” which totalled two black employees – himself included. Stewart also mentioned that the applicants were mostly university students and had a background in retail. 

The hiring process in Canada has always shown a low rate in the Black community for specific areas such as government, the private sector or even retail jobs. A Black person who is qualified for the position is less likely to be selected for the role than other candidates, even if that person is more than qualified. 

In March 2021, a class-action suit was brought against the Federal Court of Canada where scores of Black federal employees reported high levels of microaggression, discrimination and unfair promotions, among many other claims. Most of these employees held positions for more than 30 years with very little to no promotion. 

Their claims are represented by the Black Class Action Secretariat in Toronto.

In their past research, Statistics Canada reveals that Black Canadians with a university degree had an 86 per cent chance of being employed compared to non-visible minorities, which stood at 91.1 per cent. In addition, the 2016 census shows that almost 13 per cent of Black Canadians were unemployed, while for the non-visible minorities, only seven per cent were unemployed. Their recent survey also reveals the high increase in unemployment within the Black community even after 2016.

Undisputedly, Black Canadians continue to experience unemployment at a disproportionate rate. These stories have become a part of their everyday life and later cause others who want to apply for jobs to be reluctant to do so.

Sociological Science, an online sociological journal with some of the world’s leading experts, shares that Canada ranks fifth among countries with slightly high biases against Black applicants.

The issue of how Black Canadians are disproportionately added to the labour force affects not only their socio-economic status but also their mental well-being. Even after being employed, Black Canadians are also faced with racial inequalities, biases and high levels of microaggression. 

Latoya Hibbert, a Brampton mother of two, said she is terrified of her new manager because she remembers him accusing her of stealing five dollars.

“My mother kept telling me to quit, but I’m a single mother,” said Hibbert, a server at a popular Brampton restaurant.

Hibbert, who wishes to keep her employers anonymous,  mentioned that she has been dealing with high levels of microaggression and has even felt depressed when it’s time for her shifts.

There is also a significant problem regarding compensation and roles within the workforce.

The Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives on their website said that “Black men have a lower average income than other men.” They earn just 66 cents for every dollar that non-racialized men earn. Unfair wages constitute a significant issue for the Black community. Most tend to shy away from positions they may be qualified for but may be under the impression that they are not worthy of said positions.

This level of inferiority is the main factor for marginalization among Black men. There are several factors that recruiters use for hiring. A recent investigation conducted by CBC’s Marketplace reveals that having an ethnic name can prevent recruiters from hiring you, which doesn’t bode well for Ontario as it alone has the highest population of Caribbean and African immigrants.  

Oluwatobi Agbede, a Nigerian immigrant living in Brampton, said he believes that having a specific name can also determine your success in an interview. 

“When I was applying for my current job, I wondered if I should use Tobi instead of Oluwatobi- but my last name alone is a clear giveaway,” he said.” Even after I got hired, I told my coworkers to call me Tobi instead.”

The pressure of “westernizing” your name for a job that you are not guaranteed is a horror many unfortunately know in this country. 

Agbede has considered leaving because he does not feel comfortable working with the company and that most assigned roles are labour intensive. He now attends work once, weekly.

For Mary Grace Lao,instructor for sociology and cultural differences at Humber College, the issue of diversity hiring and issues faced by Black Canadians stem as far as the colonial age. Lao believes the eurocentric idea adapted by the post-colonial system continues to influence the hiring process within most companies. 

“This kind of eurocentric bias is inherited from the moment we go to school where eurocentrism is embedded in the curriculum, so it needs to be removed from that level. It is also in the industries, which puts Black people at a disadvantage,” Lao said.

Lao believes that removing the eurocentric approach that hiring managers tend to use would help remedy the issue of racial inequalities within Canadian companies.

“You want to have that long-term effect so that the anti-blackness and the anti-black racism goes away. I know that’s a lot harder than just simply hiring here or there, but those are temporary solutions, and these industries need to think about this in the long term,” she said.

When it comes to diversity, Canada may implement as many policies as they want, but not all policies are adhered to by these companies. Despite the declaration of diversity made by the Secretary of the Cabinet in Ontario, many employers seemingly disregard this policy. They may have returned to their archaic practices.

As the cost of living in Ontario increases, the unemployment among Black Canadians also increases. Indeed, a popular job posting website, recently removed most of its specific job screening questions for more than 500 new jobs since the reopening of the province. With Indeed taking such a stance, will other job posting sites follow in their footsteps?

A question many Black Canadians are now asking.

While it’s still unclear when this practice will cease, hiring managers must review their policies and ensure a balance when hiring racialized and non-racialized groups.

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