In the months of racial reckoning that has followed the killing of George Floyd, a great deal of attention has been paid to both the interpersonal and systemic racism that Black people face in the workplace. This has spurred organizations and individuals to learn more about anti-Black racism and to commit to building an anti-racist workplace.
Much like our annual commitments to self-improvement when the new year starts, it is a noble goal that often falls short. It falls short not because we don’t think it’s the right thing to do, but because it is difficult to change old patterns. Rather than making incremental changes over time, we think we can make dramatic changes overnight. When we don’t see the dramatic change, we get discouraged and fall back into old habits and patterns.
While having an overall goal is important, identifying and mapping out the day-to-day activities is equally, if not more, important. Like our plans for self-improvement, trying to be anti-racist in the workplace is not just about wanting to change. It’s about understanding how racism, and in this case anti-Black racism, operates in the workplace and committing to interrupting it when it does occur.
The first step is to educate ourselves about racism and anti-racism. We cannot change what we do not see, acknowledge, or understand. The more blatant forms of racism are obvious and therefore easier to identify and address.
The more challenging work is understanding what happens beneath the surface, at the systemic level, and how it impacts the opportunities provided to Black, Indigenous, and other racialized people within an organization. Understanding systemic racism can be difficult because it challenges long-held beliefs, particularly about meritocracy. Meritocracy implies that we have all advanced in the organization based on our efforts and abilities. It assumes that those who succeed are more talented, more capable, and more ambitious than others.
Acknowledging systemic racism means that we recognize that there are many people who haven’t succeeded due to racism as it impacts the hiring process, how “merit” is assessed, who is seen as having merit, and who is supported to be successful. Systems of recruiting, promoting, and even the culture of organizations, are often unmeritocratic because, due to systemic racism and unconscious bias, the skills and contributions of Black, Indigenous and other racialized employees are devalued.
Challenging systemic racism requires not just individual efforts, but also organizational change efforts to identify and remove the barriers that are embedded in organizational policy, practices, and culture.
Reflecting, honouring, and working towards change
Black History Month is an opportunity for individuals across North America to reflect, learn and honour the contributions and achievements Black people have made throughout history. We also must take time to reflect on the reality that systemic racism still exists in our world today.
Though progress has been made, there is still a lot of work to do. Everyone has a role to play in promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace each and every day.
Taking ownership – contributing towards change in your workplace:
Building an anti-racist mindset and challenging systemic racism is no small feat. It requires constant reflection and the commitment to continuous, self-driven education. While this list is not exhaustive, here are some ways to get started today.
Unlocking knowledge through self-educating
Educating yourself is an important and vital first step towards building an anti-racist mindset. In a digital world, there are many resources available right at your fingertips.
To start off, familiarize yourself with topics like inclusivity, disrupting bias and microaggressions. These are only a few topics to get you started but there are many more to expand your knowledge.
When striving to be anti-racist at work, the lessons you learn will go far beyond the context of the office. What you learn will impact how you view the world around you in its entirety.
Seek out resources where you spend time
If you enjoy watching movies or documentaries, most streaming platforms now have categories dedicated to telling the stories from Black, Indigenous, and racialized voices, including Optik TV and Pik TV On Demand. A few suggestions to start you off are, “Selma”, “Just Mercy”, “Hidden Figures”, “42” and “12 Years A Slave”.
You can also learn more about the contributions of Black Canadians to this country. The National Film Board has a number of films online that delve into Canada’s history, including Journey to Justice. You can also view a number of timelines that focus on the contributions of Black people to Canada’s human rights and equity history, political history, athletic history, as well as early Black settlement.
Once you begin to really absorb the information available to you, your resource pool will grow. It will fill up with new names, schools of thought, practices to learn, and others to unlearn. The hardest part is starting, but by starting with some of the suggestions above, you’ll begin to take this into your own hands.
How TELUS is enabling change in the workplace
At TELUS Digital, we want to create an inclusive, diverse and unique environment where team members feel supported and are inspired and empowered to create the best experiences for our customers. In June 2020, a group of team members came together to create an Anti-Racism Working Group with the goal to address systemic racism. This peer-lead group is committed to creating a more equitable workplace for every team member by reviewing systems, organizational structures, policies, practices, promoting education and recognizing how systematic racism plays a role in the workplace.
Passion for growth is embedded into our core values. Team members are provided access to numerous resources and free external content that focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion. Through our partnerships with the Canadian Center for Diversity and Inclusion and NeuroLeadership Institute, team members have access to resources and learning opportunities to help them learn and grow both professionally and personally.
Leveraging different perspectives and experiences allows us to deliver the best experiences to our customers. At TELUS, we have six team member resource groups that support over 6,000 members across the organization. In 2006, TELUS Diversity and Inclusion team launched and established a volunteer-based council. The council supported as a working group, helped launch our TELUS Resource Groups (TRG) and advance our inclusive culture to where it is today. In 2021, TELUS transitioned the council to a new Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board, consisting of Directors and Vice Presidents who are responsible for elevating our strategy and driving measurable impact with our Diversity and Inclusion team. You can learn more about our Diversity and Inclusion Council and Team Member Resource Groups here.
Looking forward, we want to continue towards creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. By embracing our values, we will continue to build and strengthen not only a culture of excellence but also a culture of inclusivity, equity, and diversity. Each February we take time to celebrate and recognize Black History Month but each day, we should all work towards the fight against systemic racism and contribute towards building an equitable future for all.
For this blog, TELUS Digital partnered with Turner Consulting Group. Turner Consulting Group is a leading equity, diversity, and inclusion consultancy that works with a non-profit, public, and private sector organizations to leverage diversity for organizational success.