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Black history and futures: How does the history of black people in Canada affect them in the workplace today?

Black history and futures: How does the history of black people in Canada affect them in the workplace today?

Anjolaoluwa Oyelade

by Anjolaoluwa Oyelade

The history of black people in Canada is a complex and layered one, with a long history of discrimination and inequality in the workplace. This discrimination has had dire implications for Black Canadians who continue to experience the impacts of this historical discrimination in their workplace today. By understanding the history of discrimination and the current impact it is having on Black Canadians, we can begin to consider strategies to create an equitable and inclusive workplace for Black Canadians.

The Canadian workplace has a long history of discrimination and inequality. I Hideg and AE Wilson (2020) examined the role of organizational behaviour and human decision processes in creating and perpetuating this inequality. They found that discriminatory practices in the workplace are largely consistent with historical patterns of discrimination and inequality. For example, the authors noted that women are often underpaid and under-represented in positions of power and that visible minorities are less likely to be hired or promoted. In addition, the authors found that workplace harassment, bullying, and discrimination often go unreported and that many of these practices are accepted as normal by the workplace culture. This creates an environment in which individuals are unable to reach their full potential, and in which those who are disadvantaged are unable to escape the cycle of discrimination and inequality. As such, organizations must take proactive steps to ensure that all individuals are treated fairly and that the workplace culture is one of acceptance and respect.

Research has shown that the legacy of historical discrimination against Black Canadians continues to have impacts in the workplace today (Maynard, 2017). Racism and bigotry have been pervasive throughout Canada’s history, from the policies of enslavement and racial segregation to the exclusion of Black people from certain occupations and educational institutions (Maynard, 2017). This systemic discrimination has created and sustained a workplace environment that is often hostile and exclusive to Black Canadians. In addition to this, modern-day racism continues to be a significant factor in the workplace, with Black Canadians facing higher rates of unemployment, and those who are employed are more likely to be in lower-paying jobs (Maynard, 2017). This severe lack of economic opportunity has had a significant impact on the Black Canadian community, leading to higher rates of poverty and reduced access to social services (Maynard, 2017). Therefore, it is clear that historical discrimination continues to have a profound effect on Black Canadians in the workplace today.

Africentric social work is an approach to social work that is grounded in African values, culture and history. This approach is particularly important for creating an equitable and inclusive workplace for Black Canadians. As Massaquoi and Mullings explain in their 2021 book chapter on Practice Modalities in Health Care with Black Canadians, Africentric social work is based on the belief that “the history, culture and experiences of Black people must be the cornerstone of any efforts to create an inclusive and equitable workplace” (Massaquoi & Mullings, 2021). To create an equitable and inclusive workplace, Black Canadians need to be provided with adequate resources and be given a seat at the table when it comes to decision-making. Furthermore, employers need to recognize the lived experiences and challenges of Black Canadians, as well as the unique contributions they can make to the workplace. In addition, employers should strive to create an environment that is free from racism and discrimination, and provide resources and training to staff on how to recognize and address discrimination in the workplace. By taking these steps, employers can create an equitable and inclusive workplace for Black Canadians and create a workplace where everyone can thrive.History has shaped the way in which Black people experience work in Canada, from the discrimination and labour exploitation brought about by colonialism and slavery to the unequal access to education and opportunities for advancement still present today. To address the systemic racism that Black people face in the workplace and to create an environment where all individuals can thrive, it is important to ensure Black individuals have access to resources, support, and training that can help them advance in the workplace. The implementation of equity-focused initiatives, such as equitable recruitment practices, mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, and education initiatives to increase workforce diversity, can help reduce workplace inequality and create better opportunities for Black professionals.

Anjolaoluwa Oyelade is a third year undergraduate student at EUC's Sustainable Environmental Management program. She is a peer mentor assisting in programming and information sessions and providing guidance by helping new undergraduate students transition to York University and EUC community.

Hideg, I and Wilson, A.E., (2020). History backfires: Reminders of past injustices against women undermine support for workplace policies promoting women. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Process, Volume 156, January, Pages 176-189.

Massaquoi, N. and Mullings, D.V. (2021). Practice Modalities in Health Care with Black Canadians. In Africentric Social Work edited by Delores V. Mullings, Jennifer Clarke, Wanda Thomas Bernard, David Este and Sulaimon Giwa. Fernwood Publishing, May.

Maynard, R. (2017). Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to Present. Fernwood Publishing, October.