Employers are making progress on anti-Black racism, survey says

Rob Davis

Most Black Canadians feel their employers continued to make progress addressing anti-Black racism in the last year but worry that a recession could wipe out those gains, finds new research by KPMG in Canada.

KPMG’s latest survey of more than 1,000 Black Canadians found that nine in 10 respondents said their employers made progress on efforts to be more equitable and inclusive for Black employees in 2022.

The results measure progress since KPMG’s inaugural survey of last year, which evaluated an 18-month period beginning from the spring of 2020, when companies across Canada pledged to take action towards dismantling anti-Black racism.

Nearly six in 10 (59 per cent) respondents said their employer’s efforts to hire more Black people improved in 2022, and more than half of respondents (54 per cent) said their employer’s efforts to promote more Black people into leadership roles also improved.

At the personal level, 68 per cent said their prospects for advancement (such as opportunities to work on impactful projects, upskilling and training for higher level roles) have improved over the last year, while 58 per cent said their promotion prospects had improved.

Alison Rose

However, respondents fear an economic downturn could threaten to erase those gains. The survey found three-quarters (75 per cent) worry a potential recession will hurt their career and promotion prospects and 77 per cent are concerned it will hurt the career and promotion prospects of their Black and racialized colleagues harder than others.

Nearly seven in 10 (69 per cent) think Black and racialized people will be among the first to lose their jobs in a potential recession. Additionally, 73 per cent believe anti-Black racism efforts and broader diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives will be ‘put on the back burner’ by their employer during an economic downturn.

“While it’s encouraging to see Canadian organizations have continued to make progress on addressing anti-Black racism over the past year, it’s imperative to keep building on that momentum, even in the face of economic headwinds, labour market fluctuations and inflationary pressures,” said Elio Luongo, CEO and Senior Partner of KPMG in Canada and Co-Chair of the firm’s Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (ID&E) Council.

Working remotely was largely seen as a positive experience by respondents. Seven in 10 (72 per cent said remote work helped reduce anti-Black racism at their workplace because their colleagues focused more on their skills than their skin colour, and 71 per cent said it helped ease some of the pressures they face as a Black person in the workplace. More than two-thirds (68 per cent) said working remotely removed racial barriers to career advancement.

“When people worked from home during the pandemic and its aftermath, it’s possible many of them let go of biases when they saw their co-workers in their own surroundings, working from their living rooms – suddenly, everyone had a new window into their colleagues’ lives and circumstances. We got to know each other better, and many of us learned that we have more in common than we thought. Let’s capitalize on that progress by continuing to apply the same mindset in person at work,” says Rob Davis, Chair of KPMG’s Board of Directors and Chief Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Officer.  

“The inclusion of Black and racialized people in an organization’s workforce, talent pipeline, leadership ranks, supply chain and customer experience strategy are all crucial to addressing anti-Black racism, and employers that are executing on policies and plans in all these areas are demonstrating a genuine commitment to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles,” says Alison Rose, partner at KPMG in Canada’s Life and Pensions Actuarial practice.