Two years after signing BlackNorth Initiative, majority of companies have failed to make substantial progress on diversity, survey shows

Good to see the tracking. Good highlighting of some of the better practices that can be more broadly applied (both for Blacks and other minorities):

Some of the largest companies in Canada that announced high-profile commitments to address anti-Black systemic racism two years ago have made major strides in improving the number of Black employees hired and elevated into executive roles, a Globe and Mail analysis has found.

But those companies remain among a minority of signatories of the BlackNorth Initiative – a 2020 pledge aimed at tackling systemic racism – to make substantial progress toward the diversity goals they committed to meet over five years.

On three prominent metrics – the number of Black employees, Black executives and Black directors – only about 10 per cent of the 481 companies that signed on have reported an improvement in any of those categories over the past two years.

Among 145 companies that responded to The Globe’s survey in the spring of 2022, the median percentage of Black employees increased to 4.8 per cent, up from 3.7 per cent in 2020, before companies signed the BlackNorth pledge.

But 70 per cent of companies that signed the pledge either did not respond to The Globe’s survey this spring about the racial composition of their work force, or said they did not track that data. Thus, improvements in the number of Black and other racialized employees since 2020 were only apparent among the minority of companies that responded to The Globe with detailed data.

“I think it’s safe to say that a low response rate correlates to the slow amount of change that is happening,” said Kike Ojo-Thompson, founder and chief executive of the KOJO Institute, a Toronto-based diversity, equity and inclusion consultancy.

While projects such as the initiative encourage companies to assess themselves and provide external accountability, they also highlight areas in which corporate Canada has yet to improve.

To Dahabo Ahmed-Omer, executive director of the BlackNorth Initiative, it’s no surprise that many companies are slow to make progress. “It’s not just about putting a signature on the dotted line. That’s not what this initiative is about,” she said.

The initiative, a Toronto-based non-profit organization, was founded by Bay Street financier and philanthropist Wes Hall in July, 2020, amid a wave of global Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by a white police officer. Broadly speaking, the initiative encouraged employers to commit to targets to raise the number of Black employees, and to ensure no barriers exist for Black employees trying to advance.

Companies were challenged to commit to a seven-pronged pledge over five years, including promises to have at least 3.5 per cent of board and executive roles occupied by Black people by 2025, and ensure Black student hires make up 5 per cent of the overall intern population of a workplace. Signatories also committed to investing at least 3 per cent of corporate donations in organizations that create economic opportunities in the Black community.

The initiative was swiftly embraced by corporate Canada. Within days of its launch, more than 200 prominent companies, including Rogers Communications Inc., most of the Big Five banks, and multinational heavyweights such as Coca-Cola and Adidas signed on. Many were quick to issue news releases, reiterating their commitments to diversity, and promising to address anti-Black systemic racism within their workplaces.

Over the following 12 months, close to 500 companies of all sizes – including The Globe – signed on. BlackNorth itself expanded – in headcount and the value of corporate donations it received – as it became the pre-eminent entity advising corporate Canada on diversity and equity.

This spring, The Globe surveyed all 481 companies that have signed the pledge to assess progress toward the five-year goals. The survey was similar to The Globe’s survey last yearof 209 companies that signed the pledge in July, 2020.

The Globe asked companies to respond to an 18-question survey based on the seven goals in the pledge, and gave companies roughly six weeks to respond.

The questions were designed to determine how the diversity of the companies’ work forces – particularly the composition of Black employees – has changed since the summer of 2020. The Globe also collected data on the number of Black directors and executives.

The Globe showed some improvement itself in the number of Black executives and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) employees in its work force. Currently, 10 per cent of executive roles are held by Black employees, up from zero in 2020.

The Globe doesn’t track the total number of Black employees, but says 30 per cent of employees are now BIPOC, up from 25 per cent before The Globe signed the pledge in late 2020. However, as a private company with a small board, The Globe does not have a Black board member.

Critically, just 30 per cent of BlackNorth signatories – or 145 companies – responded to The Globe’s survey, significantly lower than last year’s response rate. Twelve additional companies did not respond, but provided separate written submissions on how they worked toward meeting their diversity goals.

Among the companies that responded, many either chose not to disclose numerical data on the racial composition of their organizations, or said they did not track it.

However, almost all the companies that responded, even those that did not last year, said they have established diversity leadership councils and come up with a strategic “diversity and inclusion plan,” which were two requirements of the BlackNorth pledge.

Other key findings of The Globe survey from the 145 companies that responded:

  • The median number of Black employees across those companies increased over the past two years – from 3.7 per cent in 2020, to 4 per cent in 2021, to 4.8 per cent in 2022.
  • The median number of BIPOC employees also increased – from 25.6 per cent in 2020, to 31.9 per cent in 2021, to 33 per cent in 2022.
  • The median number of Black executives increased from 0 per cent in 2020, to 1 per cent in 2021, to 2 per cent in 2022.
  • A majority of companies tracked the number of Black directors on their boards. The median percentage increased from 0 per cent in 2020 and 2021, to 0.5 per cent currently.
  • There was a marked improvement in the number of companies that tracked diversity data since signing the BNI pledge. For example, before signing, just 40 per cent of the 145 companies said they tracked data on the number of Black employees. In 2022, the proportion increased to 60 per cent.
  • 30 companies with more than 5,000 employees – including Manulife Financial Corp., SickKids hospital and HSBC Canada – made significant gains in the number of Black directors. The median number of Black board members was 6.5 per cent in 2022, increasing from 2.35 per cent last year.

The results were, for the most part, better than last year, when a majority of companies made little to no improvement in hiring or elevating the number of Black people, mainly because they did not have the right systems in place to track diversity data.

Source: Two years after signing BlackNorth Initiative, majority of companies have failed to make substantial progress on diversity, survey shows

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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