A Conversation About Race in the Workplace Featuring Dr. Hadiya Roderique

Acknowledging a problem starts with honest reflection and dialogue. As part of Black History Month in Canada, Episode 12 of REAL TIME features a much-needed conversation about confronting and addressing bias in our everyday lives and how to become a better ally.

We were honoured to speak with lawyer, researcher and award-winning writer, Dr. Hadiya Roderique – best known for her Globe and Mail piece Black on Bay Street, which outlined her experiences as a young Black woman working in a Bay Street law firm.

I was one of only five Black law students in my class of about 200. I was, when I joined the firm, one of two Black female lawyers, and when I left the firm, I was the only Black female lawyer. My firm had five Black lawyers, which to my knowledge, was the most of any firm on Bay Street. We were doing well, but I was still so alone.

So, what is unconscious bias and how can we recognize it in our own lives?

I would define it as social stereotypes and patterns and thought processes that guide our decisions without us realizing it. I think a lot of people associate racism with there’s “capital R” racism and then there’s not being a racist. They associate “capital R” racism with hoods and people using slurs and violence, and you’re either that or you’re not racist, especially in Canada. We compare ourselves to the States a lot in this idea of Canadian exceptionalism.

People fail to recognize that there’s a lot of gray. It isn’t just Black or White, racist or not. There’s a lot of different actions and different things you can do that you might not realize are enacting on these prejudices or stereotypes that you hold. It’s not that you’re someone reviewing resumes, and you’re like, “Black resume, no, no, no, no,” but it’s the fact that maybe you didn’t notice that you were a harsher judge of their education or experience without realizing where that judgment was coming from, or you see a particular type of experience and you assume X about it, when you assume Y when it’s a White person having that same kind of experience.

Racism is inextricably linked to opportunity gap, as well—something REALTOR® members speak to personally later in the episode.

I heard Trevor Noah say this quite well. He was talking specifically about anti-Black racism. He said, “Black people are not asking you, asking companies to hire them because they are Black, they are asking you to stop not hiring them because they are Black.” I think that’s one of the crucial differences that people don’t seem to get. They think that Black people are asking for special opportunities. No, we’re just asking for the same opportunities that you already enjoy.

Dr. Roderique also speaks to the added pressure as a Black woman working in law to conform to the perceived norms of her professional environment.

I certainly understood that I had to conform socially. I knew not to talk about the fact that my dad was a cab driver, but instead to talk about the fact that he had an engineering degree. I knew to talk about, Glenfiddich and my travel to Japan, or wherever I had gone and not, roti and park barbecues. There’s this expectation of conformity to this upper-middle-class standard. I think in the past a lot of companies wanted basically people of colour who were like White people, who came from the upper-middle class, spoke that language.

What can we do to minimize the impact of unconscious bias in our decision making?

What I want those populations to think about is changing processes so that people can’t be biased within them. I don’t think three one-hour sessions of unconscious bias training is going to do much to solve our problems about racism. What you want to do is have a system so that someone cannot enact their racist ideals or thoughts within that system. Things like work allocation, what’s your work allocation process? How do managers give out work? Because often the kind and caliber of projects that you do are what sets you up for success and sets you up for ascension and promotion. If certain people are getting all of the good files, or in the past, as they were called the blue files and the pink files, the men got the blue files, the women got the administrative pink files, what are your Brown files and your White files? Thinking about that and thinking about ways you can change your processes to interrupt bias.

What steps can White allies take to genuinely support their Black and racialized colleagues, clients and friends?

I think one thing is to do your own research work in education. You don’t need to go up to your Black friend and ask them to explain microaggressions to you, you have fingertips and probably four different devices that connect to the internet, you can Google. You can Google basic terms, you can read books to get more familiar with the language, so making sure that you are up to date on your vernacular.

Then the second thing is to recognize how much power there is in your silence and in your action. The power in your silence is negative. When you see something happening and you say nothing, it comes across as tacit endorsement of what is happening. If someone says to me, do the carpet match the drapes, which is an actual thing that someone has said to me in the workplace, and you say nothing, you are approving that behaviour.

I know a lot of people worry about saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing, but I promise you that doing anything is literally better than doing nothing.

The episode also includes personal experiences from three Black REALTORS® and their insights on bias and racism:

“We see racism or racial bias primarily in our rental markets, when certain ethnicities are denied offers to lease without any reason or explanation. If you have ever represented a minority tenant in at least transaction, then it’s apparent of the racism prevalent within our communities.” Bethany King, salesperson and REALTOR®

“It’s our committees and boards that govern where we’re going to go as an association. For me, it was important that we start to incorporate that as part of our philosophy. In order to do that, I thought that creating this task force, which we met for the first time in September, and we’ve met a few times since, is going to be our first step in recognizing what actions we as an association need to do to ensure that we are building and developing and fostering a community of inclusion, a sense of belonging for our members.” Chris Peters, salesperson and REALTOR®

“You are going to work harder as a minority, and you will definitely work harder as a minority and a female, it will be the best career and it’ll be so worth it as long as you align yourself and create your tribe in real estate, in terms of people that look like you, that have the same values, characteristics as you, and just build on that together.” Jasmine Lee, broker and REALTOR®

Catch the full episode and be sure to subscribe to REAL TIME on your favourite podcast app. We’ll be launching new episodes with exciting guests every month.

Kylee Sauve, Director, Communications, leads a dynamic team of communicators, translators and designers in the execution of CREA's strategic priorities. Since starting her career with an internationally recognized non-profit organization, Kylee has gained more than a decade of communications experience. When not in the office, she can be found working on her house or yard with her husband and dogs.

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