More than 200 organizations, including 30% of companies on the TSX 60, have signed a pledge committing to specific actions to end anti-Black systemic racism.
The Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism launched the BlackNorth Initiative last month with the aim of increasing “the representation of Blacks in boardrooms and executive suites across Canada.” On Monday, the organization revealed the take-up at a virtual event hosted in Toronto.
The BlackNorth Initiative CEO pledge requires signatories to commit to Black people holding at least 3.5% of executive and board roles based in Canada by 2025 and to hiring at least 5% of its student workforce from the Black community. A number of financial firms (see below) are among the signatories, and BlackNorth’s board includes executives from big banks and asset managers.
“Anti-Black systemic racism has to end,” said Wes Hall, the council’s founder and chair, and the founder and executive chair of Kingsdale Advisors.
Business leaders need to be aware that systemic racism has “a material impact on our business, our Black employees and their families,” he said at the summit on Monday.
Hall defined systemic racism in Canada as specifically anti-Black: where other people of colour have experienced racism at the individual level, most don’t feel the entire system is set up to filter them out, he said on Monday.
He described numerous instances of racism. His son was pulled over three times in one year by police who always asked how he could afford to drive such a nice car; a repairman visiting Hall’s home in Toronto’s wealthy Rosedale neighbourhood asked him if he could speak to Mr. Hall.
The killing of George Floyd in May, which has sparked global anti-racism protests, has led many to ask: “Was I witnessing this all along and I just didn’t get it?” Hall said.
“This is not a corporate Canada problem. This is in every single sector,” he said, from business to governments to non-profits. Organizations across the spectrum have signed the pledge.
“Systemic racism exists on both sides of the border,” said CIBC CEO Victor Dodig, who spoke on a panel Monday with other council co-chairs.
“We’ve all signed up to changing culture so it’s inclusive, it’s diverse and we’re going to measure it, too,” he said of the CEO pledge.
A number of financial institutions have announced additional measures to hire more Black employees, to support Black communities and to address systemic racism. However, many in the industry still feel there’s a lot more work to do.
In addition to the pledge, Dodig said training is required to address unconscious bias, or the things we’ve been taught that we “thought were OK that weren’t OK.”
“We want to make sure that our talented Black employees have a shot at the top, feel they have a shot at important leadership positions, and I want to make sure our clients see us as a bank that represents the population that we’re serving,” Dodig said. “Now is the time.”
Financial firms that have signed the pledge include:
- BlueSky Investment Capital LLC
- Bridging Finance Inc.
- Brookfield Asset Management Inc.
- Canada Life
- Canadian Western Bank
- CI Financial Corp.
- Desjardins Group
- Equitable Group Inc.
- Ewing Morris & Co. Investment Partners Ltd.
- Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited
- First Capital Real Estate Investment Trust
- HSBC Bank Canada
- IG Wealth Management
- INFOR Financial Group Inc.
- Investment Planning Counsel Inc.
- Kingsdale Advisors
- Mackenzie Investments
- Manulife Financial Corp.
- National Bank of Canada
- Ontario Securities Commission
- Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan
- Sun Life Financial
- Wealthsimple Inc.