Well This Is Awkward
As anyone involved in staffing or who manages even one individual knows there will be times when you will need to have awkward conversations. These could be on everything from work performance to tardiness to theft of yogurt from a fridge. How you approach these conversations usually depends on the working relationship and your personal interactions. It’s easy enough to tell your best friend at work to stop stealing your favourite pen but having a conversation about repeated negative work performance is another. All the reading and teaching on this subject sums up to “the idea is to speak up calmly and matter-of-factly.”
There is one situation where facts alone do not make for a good conversation – and that is on prejudice and racism in a workplace. The world is finally putting an exceptionally large magnifying glass on racism, specifically anti-black racism (ABR) in all aspects of daily life. I am aware that as you read this, “I don’t see colour” or “I’m not a racist” are playing through your mind. I have said the same things numerous times in my life – I am not perfect, none of us are! Simply implicit bias exists (check out the Project Implicit test and results from Harvard University). It’s taken a lot of re-education and shifting stereotypes over the last decade+ for me to even remotely state that I am an ally, and I have a leg up on many as a POC (person of colour).
Have I lost you yet? No? Good!
Let’s talk Anti-Racism
We all need to recognize that platitudes, black squares on social media and organizations pledging change will not be enough. Especially if those pledges remain on a shelf with little action or follow through; and more importantly, if we do not allow our team members to be comfortable in admitting they don’t know what they can do without fear of making a mistake and being judged. There are a few things that I have seen happening in many workplaces that are ok and also are not ok:
- It’s ok not to know where to start (Netflix is not where you start, it can add to the process, but don’t start there).
- It’s not ok to ask the one Black employee at your organization to lead the charge on change and ask them to speak for an entire culture.
- It’s ok to ask your HR team and if you are lucky enough to have a D&I committee to look at creating a safe space to ask questions, be it in person at a training or on a virtual forum.
- It’s not ok to say all lives matter in response to #BlackLivesMatter (this has been circulating for forever it seems – this article sums up the issue in a digestible manner).
- It’s not ok to remain ignorant. If you really want to learn you will start the journey yourself. Think back to all those research papers you had to write pre-internet, you had to go to the library look up a book in an index card, read the entire book to find the one paragraph you wanted to cite. This is not how we research anymore – Google/Bing/Yahoo can help you find the resources you need.
Where Do I Start With Anti-Racism?
I can’t answer that for you. Your journey to allyship is one you must define yourself. I can only tell you where I went to re-up: going to the virtual events by South Asians for Black Lives (Web | Instagram), reading Check Your Privilege among other books (Get the book | Instagram); and recognizing that I needed to self reflect on how I can be a better ally. 2020 is when I was reminded that I am a white passing South Asian and I have been fortunate in my privilege (both my parents are post secondary educated, and I was raised in an upper middle income household) which is not the case for many BIPOC people. This is far from the norm.
The pandemic gave us all the time we needed to reflect on things like health, family time and more. Why would it not also be a time to reflect on our personal goals on being anti-racist?
COVID-19 Created An Opportunity
COVID was not the great equalizer the media touts it to be. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities have been hit harder and faster than any other group and this continues to impact the existing wealth gap (chasm). Without going into all the research (there is so much out there but a great place to start is Block, Galabuzi and Tranjan’s paper “Colour Coded Income Inequality”) mobility injustice plays heavily into employment and housing access for BIPOC individuals. The Centre for Investigative Reporting reviewed 31 million mortgage applications and found that Black and Latinx applications were much more likely to be denied conventional mortgage loans that white Americans. Which may not be as high in Canada, but the numbers are indicative of a systemic issue. If you isolate individuals into pocket neighbourhoods and make it difficult for them to find careers, not just jobs, the gap will continue to grow.
When it comes to work, a three-hour daily commute from a neighbourhood you can afford to get to a job you need is doable. However, a 90 minute drive on any 400-series highway in Ontario can be as frustrating as trying to unseal a roll of toilet paper without ripping and losing ¼ of the roll.
What this pandemic has shown us is that when employees are provided the right tools and the support to work from home they not only work but they can excel. For example, a person can be in Wawa and still be able to do communications work for a major vendor just as easily as if they were in a physical cubicle. This new way of working will and has opened up new avenues for employment, and I believe HR teams would be remiss if they were not considering an element of WFH moving forward. Doing so just makes sense as you are opening up your candidate base significantly. This is the time to look at traditional work and see if we can find better ways of working that also just happen to directly impact underrepresented communities.
What Is OCNI Going To Do?
I am pledging to you that OCNI may be starting small, but we are committed to building a resource list and producing series of townhall panels on topics (Diversity+Inclusion Townhall: July 24). We are working towards creating a safe space for OCNI members to ask the questions you aren’t sure if you can ask, and will look at how all of us can work together to propel this movement forward. It is not for us to lead but to work together with the community, groups, impacted voices, and the sector to bring about a positive change.
I could easily turn this into a multi-page thesis, but this is not a lecture, just food for thought as we all start this journey together. Below are some resources you might find interesting, and if you have any that you think would be of interest to the nuclear supply chain please feel free to send them to me Navneet.firstname.lastname@example.org and the team and I would be happy to add them to our D&I resource page.
- Student Energy’s Commitment to Addressing Racial Injustice in the Sustainable Energy Transition
- BOMA Toronto – Anti Racism Road Map for Every Day Action
- How to support women of colour in your workplace
- A great op ed on accountability
- Encouraging Diversity Without Tokenism
- The Dangers of Mistaking Diversity for Inclusion in the Workplace
- Working from Home While Black
- Black Owned Bookstores in Canada
- How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
- Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
- Learn about the Black North Initiative
- What does it mean to be an ally? There’s a guide
- Unsure of how to talk to your children about this try The Conscious Kid or Teaching Tolerance (educator resources that you can adapt)
(Originally Published July 21, 2020)