In March 2005 an Ipsos Reid Survey indicated that four million Canadians or one out of every six adults had been the target of racism. According to Statistics Canada, by 2017 for every 100 visible minorities that will leave the workforce, there will be 142 visible minorities ready to join the workforce. These statistics illustrate the long-term challenges that face Canada’s increasingly diverse workforce and the need to challenge racism in organizations.
1. Be clear about the value and the limitations of a policy to address racism
An anti-racism policy should begin with a statement that recognizes that challenging racism benefits and strengthens an organization. The statement should not be phrased as a problem. Acknowledging the skills and expertise that racialized and aboriginal communities bring to an organization creates a vision that members of an organization will support.
Work plans with timelines and deliverables should be attached to an anti-racism policy so that it becomes a “living document” and not simply a list of commitments that are ideal or that identify a set of problems. Clearly outline the steps to implement an anti-racism and anti-oppression framework in the policy so it becomes a reality in the organization.
2. Ensure that there is a clear connection between your organization’s mission, programs and services, and the commitment to challenging racism
Many organizations have excellent mission statements and visions but anti-racism policies are not incorporated in these statements. It is essential to connect how challenging racism is relevant to the every day work of an organization. This connection can be achieved by building an anti-racism policy into a strategic plan. Once this policy is an embedded as a strategic priority, often resources will be allocated to this anti-racism work.
Do not over rely on training to fix problems of racism. While training is useful, it can be used as a one-time solution which does not address the reality that organizational and individual behaviours change gradually. Embed anti-racism policies in your mission statement and strategic plan to ensure an equitable workplace. And at every opportunity – from an annual general meeting to a board meeting or even a staff meeting – organizational leaders must clearly explain the importance of challenging racism in relation to the agenda of each particular event.
3. Build the skills and competencies to address racism into daily supervision and into performance reviews
Challenging racism is a core competency of a workplace in a racially diverse society. As a core responsibility addressing racism needs to be built into job descriptions, daily supervision duties, and performance reviews. Boards should hold executive directors accountable for how they are implementing anti-racism policies. Staff members need to understand that challenging racism is not something that they can opt in and out of. During staff meetings have proactive discussions about how different identities affect the organization’s work. Encouraging different forms of leadership is an important way of recognizing that people in “different bodies” work in “different ways” and that these “ways” are relevant, necessary and beneficial to the work that is being accomplished.
Too often racism becomes a problem because people view co-workers who are “different” as being a problem because they have a different workstyle. It is more constructive to look at the ways people work differently and learn from them, to transform and improve the mission of the organization.
4. Provide support to internal change agents and communicate their value to the entire organization
Internal change agents are often viewed as troublemakers because they raise issues of discrimination. Leaders of organizations can reverse this trend by providing opportunities for these staff members to meet and discuss issues of racism. These internal change agents are willing to provide valuable information to management about what is working and not working in an organization and therefore their voices need to be heard to improve the overall work of the organization.
5. Establish connections with community groups and agencies who will advocate for your organization’s commitment to challenging racism
Nonprofits must maintain connections with community organizations that champion issues of anti-racism. These organizations will provide an important perspective on how the organization is living up to its anti-racism commitments.
On a large scale, the Federal government’s apology to the Chinese-Canadian community about the head tax is an example of how to exert concerted pressure over a long period of time to challenge racism. Organizations such as the Chinese Canadian National Council led the way in demanding for an apology and redress of the head tax. On a small scale give staff the opportunity to network and establish meaningful collaborations with community agencies that advocate on issues of racism and other forms of discrimination.
Five Good Resources
- The Colour of Democracy: Racism in Canadian Society. Henry, Tator, Mattis and Rees, Thompson, 1998.
- Canada’s Economic Apartheid. Grace-Edward Galabuzi, Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2006.
- Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression. Anne Bishop, Fernwood Publishing, 1994.
- Expanding the Circle: People Who Care About Ending Racism. Ann Curry-Stevens, Centre for Social Justice, 2005.
- Dancing on Live Embers: Challenging Racism in Organizations. Tina Lopes and Barb Thomas, Between the Lines, 2006.