The Need for Racial Awakening

CASE TeamNews

A person of colour typing on a laptop

The Need for Racial Awakening

Written By: Shifat Ara, Project Manager- Diversity Works, CASE

A country’s workforce is representative of its population. The Canadian population is racially and ethnically heterogeneous. Canadians have come from many countries of origin and diverse cultural backgrounds. The  Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism in the 1960s coined the term the “Third Force” to refer to Canadians not of British and French origin. In its report, the Royal Commission stressed that Canada was a mosaic, or a multicultural society, made up of three basic elements: the British, the French, and other Canadians (disregarding completely or paying very little attention to Indigenous populations). What has changed since the 1960s is the rate at which the “Third Force” has gained strength and momentum. “Other Canadians” have become a rising population segment in Canada, permanently changing the Canadian demographic and the face of its workforce. 

According to the 2016 Canadian population census, more than one-fifth of Canadians are people of color. South Asians, Chinese, and Black individuals being the largest groups. Although numbers favour those of colour, equity in most aspects of their lives is a distant reality. These inequities are evident in the Canadian workforce. It is during times of great economic and social crisis that such inequities assume their most severe forms.  Unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic had taken a significant toll on the Canadian workforce and people of colour have been hit the most, more severely than non-racialized people.  

A survey funded by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation in 2021 shed light on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racialized individuals in comparison to non-racialized workers: 

“On average, over the period July 2020 to June 2021, 28% of Indigenous Peoples and 31% of racialized households lived with economic insecurity compared to 16% of white households.” 

“During the pandemic period studied, three industries accounted for 80% of job losses in Canada: accommodation and food services; information, culture and recreation; and wholesale and retail trade. Racialized workers were over-represented in these industries both in 2016 and during the pandemic and were, therefore, at greater risk of job loss due to COVID-19.” 

“The gap in the unemployment rate between racialized and white workers increased compared to the rates in the 2016 census (the most recent pre-pandemic data available for racialized workers). For racialized women, the gap increased from 3.2 percentage points in 2016 to an average of 5 percentage points for the period July 2020 to June 2021, to an average of 4.7 percentage points between April and June 2021. For racialized men, the gap increased from 0.6 percentage points in 2016, to an average of 2.8 percentage points for the period July 2020 to June 2021, to an average of 2.5 percentage points between April and June 2021. There was a similar increase in the gap between unemployment rates for youth aged 15–24.” 

Barriers to employment for racialized individuals are manifold in comparison to their white counterparts. Name bias, limited employment opportunities, lack of diversity at leadership levels and lack of mentorship to name a few. Attaining and retaining employment are both challenging as a result. Whether explicitly directed towards people of color or resulting from unconscious bias, being subjugated to racism has caused people of colour to experience high levels of emotional tax - a heightened experience of being different from peers at work because of your gender and/or race/ethnicity and the associated detrimental effects on health, well-being, and the ability to thrive at work.

Major reforms are needed to address the bias racialized individuals have to go through in their employment journey. The first being- allowing Black, Indigenous and people of colour to make decisions that can impact systemic change. Employers must make conscious efforts to diversify their workforce and their leadership teams. That means putting extra efforts to capacitate racialized employees to climb up the (corporate) ladder. Diversity and inclusion efforts should be a top-down approach. Leaders must hold themselves accountable for changing organizational norms and hiring patterns. 

The workforce development sector must also go through changes in response to the changing Canadian workforce. Employment experiences of racialized individuals are different than that of Caucasians and thus the sector must employ more people of colour and exert conscious efforts to better understand those experiences and design programs that support racialized jobseekers better. 

It is time to move away from the “colourblind” ideology and acknowledge that race, colour, and ethnicity play a critical role in accessing and securing opportunities for racialized individuals. People of colour should be seen as individuals holding their unique identities, knowledge, and skills rather than a member/representative of a group and treated with (negative) biases that society usually holds against it (the groups). 

About the author

Shifat is a Project Management Professional (PMP®) since 2019 with over seven years of experience in managing international development projects in South-East Asia and now in Canada involving private sector, non-profits, and government. Her focus of work is project management, advocacy, and research. Currently, Shifat is managing a research project at CASE that aims to understand the supported employment experiences of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour experiencing disability. Her email address is shifat@supportedemployment.ca