Mid-2020, Canadian business leader Wes Hall watched a video that changed his life course.
It was the May 25, 2020, killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. In the U.S., this video spurred millions of people to participate in Black Lives Matter protests in cities across America.
In Canada, Hall dropped everything, and with the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism, created the BlackNorth Initiative.
“Like most people, I was busy managing business through COVID-19,” says Hall, Executive Chairman and Founder of Kingsdale Advisors. “I saw the video, and it affected my life. I can’t operate like it’s business as usual. As business leaders, we can collectively address systemic racism.”
Canada hopes to use a business solution to solve the social problem of systemic racism.
The Initiative is backed by some impressive Canadian corporate muscle.
A list of more than 320 companies, including Facebook, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Adidas and PepsiCo, have signed the BlackNorth Initiative pledge. Hall’s goal is to reach 1,000 companies by year-end.
“We acknowledge the existence of anti-Black systemic racism and its impact on Canada’s 1,198,540 Black citizens (or 3.5% of the population) and the need to create opportunities within our companies for Black people,” the BlackNorth Initiative pledge states.
It goes on: “The persistent inequities across our country underscore our urgent, national need to address and alleviate racial, ethnic, and other tensions and to promote the elimination of anti-Black systemic racism wherever it exists. As leaders of some of Canada’s largest corporations, we manage hundreds of thousands of employees and play a critical role in ensuring that inclusion is core to our workplace culture and that our businesses are representative of the communities we serve.”
The Seven-Point Pledge
Black Canadians make up less than 1% of senior executives. So, to begin this movement of change, the BlackNorth Initiative pledge has set seven goals. They are:
- Working through the BlackNorth Initiative, we will increase our efforts to make our workplaces trusting places to have complex, and sometimes difficult conversations about anti-Black systemic racism and ensure that no barriers exist to prevent Black employees from advancing within the company. Creating an environment that fosters dialogue is key. Specifically, this includes the creation of listening forums that will allow people to gain greater awareness of each other’s experiences and perspectives.
- Working through the BlackNorth Initiative, we will implement or expand unconscious bias and anti-racism education. Every employee must receive unconscious bias training. We all have biases, and they come out in sometimes inappropriate ways. For example, in a job interview. “If I have nothing in common with you or maybe we didn’t go to the same school, I may not get that job,” Hall says.
- We will share best — and unsuccessful — practices. Members of the Black community have resources to help advance the Black community. Many companies still are developing programs and initiatives around true diversity and inclusion. The Initiative is committed to helping these companies evolve and enhance their current diversity strategies.
- We will create and share strategic inclusion and diversity plans with our board of directors. The goal is to create a diversity leadership council within each company, ensuring the representation of different groups, including senior Black leaders, within the organization.
- We will use our resources to work with members of the Black community through the BlackNorth Initiative. Black communities across Canada will be made aware of employment opportunities, and at least 5% of the student workforce will come from the Black community. Companies also pledge to invest at least 3% of corporate donations and sponsorships to promote investment and create economic opportunities in the Black community by 2025.
- We will engage Canada’s corporate governance framework. The aim of the BlackNorth Initiative is to include both board chairs and CEOs to foster inclusiveness for Black leaders at the board level, as well as at senior management and executive levels. By 2025, a minimum of 3.5% of executive and board roles based in Canada will be held by Black leaders.
- We will create the conditions for success. It’s essential that data is collected on race and ethnicity, including from Black employees, to understand where there are gaps and when companies are making progress. This goal involves setting talent management goals and including them in senior executives’ annual performance scorecards.
To change the world, you have to be bold
“If you want to change the world, you can’t set your goals low,” Hall says. “All of us in YPO – we’re overachievers. It’s who we are. So, when we think about an initiative like BlackNorth – it is consistent with what a YPO member would do. Systemic racism is a big problem. To solve it, you have to be bold.”
If we’re successful in Canada – it could be Canada’s competitive advantage to the world. Anyone can do it. They just need the will. ”
— Wes Hall, Executive Chairman & Founder, Kingsdale Advisors share
For too long, the Black community has been left behind by the diversity movement in Canada.
But really, this is a global issue.
“If you look at the U.S., we’re not very different,” Hall says. “We have it all just the same. We need to impact society.”
The BlackNorth Initiative has set up committees to look at racism issues across all facets of society, including health care, education, economic empowerment, justice, philanthropy, housing, sports and entertainment, government relations, and community safety and wellness.
Hall says qualified Black professionals already exist in Canada’s business ranks. By 2030, 50% of Canada’s boards should represent the population.
The BlackNorth Initiative has piqued interest around the world. The city of London recently lifted this goal: 3% of corporate executives will be Black.
“If we’re successful in Canada – it could be Canada’s competitive advantage to the world,” Hall says. “Anyone can do it. They just need the will.”