Understanding systemic discrimination & what you can do about it
We’ve all recently been involved directly or indirectly in conversations surrounding discrimination in our community and our country. With the recent devastating deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, the deep-rooted problem of systemic racism and discrimination within countries around the globe has been highlighted, and rightfully so. Given the incredibly diverse society we currently live in, there is no reason why we should strive for anything less than diverse and inclusive personal and professional environments.
Hopefully, this article can get you started on recognizing, identifying, and actively working towards alleviating discrimination in your everyday life.
Let’s get right to it.
Put simply, discrimination stems from actions and decisions that have a negative impact on an individual based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, sex, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status through exclusion, denied benefits, and imposed burdens.
These actions and decisions are informed by stereotypes and prejudices people hold towards different groups. Typically, towards individuals from marginalized groups such as people of colour, indigenous peoples, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and various religious groups.
Unfortunately, these preconceived opinions are perpetuated from generation to generation, which creates embedded societal patterns of discrimination and inequality. Hence, the term systemic discrimination.
Diversity refers to the individuals in your workforce, organization, or team and how well they represent a wide range of individual traits and experiences.
Inclusion refers specifically to the behaviours, social norms, and practises implemented to ensure every individual is accepted, respected, valued, and feels welcomed. In other words, inclusion refers to how well every individual is encouraged to fully participate in and contribute to an environment, organization, team, or activity.
As leaders, entrepreneurs, teammates, friends, family, and citizens we must do more to alleviate the perpetuation of systemic patterns of oppression. And here’s why you should care:
There is an unsettling wealth inequality between Black and White Canadians. In fact, first-generation Black Canadians earn an average yearly income of 37 000 CAD compared to other non-Black first-generation Canadians who make an average yearly income of 50 000 CAD. Black Canadians are also far more likely to be unemployed than non-Black Canadians. Other racialized groups and White Canadians are perceived as being more productive and hard-working, which allows them to be absorbed into the workforce easier and faster than Black immigrants, who are subject to discriminatory practices based on negative stereotypes and prejudices.
Similarly, in the United States, the racial wealth gap is troubling. White households hold 90% of the country’s wealth, while Latino families and Black families hold only 2.3% and 2.6% of the national wealth, respectively. The Black unemployment rate in the U.S. is also consistently twice that of White Americans. Not to mention, Black Americans with bachelor’s degrees are twice as likely than all other graduates to be unemployed.
As you can see, there’s a lot of work to do to bridge the wealth gap in both Canada and the United States.
Diversity in the workplace
A diverse and inclusive company culture is also extremely important for the healthy growth of any business. Many companies are coming to this realization as leadership initiatives shift towards investing in developing comfortable and enjoyable work environments for employees.
There are also great benefits to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace for the growth of your company. Businesses who have successfully developed a diverse and inclusive company culture experience greater innovation and are able to attract new markets. A diverse and inclusive workplace allows for more thought-provoking conversations to emerge, creative solutions to develop, and out-of-the-box ideas to be heard.
So what now? What can you do as a company to increase diversity and inclusion?
- Evaluate and audit your company policies to fight against systemic discrimination and inequality.
- Define common languages, values, missions and standards that foster diversity and inclusion.
- Think about who’s being recruited for interviews, who’s being hired in your company, who’s getting promoted.
- Is your leadership as diverse as your workforce? Identify your blind spot.
Invest in your company culture by leading by example. Ask questions and foster honest and transparent dialogue with your employees. Listen, then respond to their questions, comments, and ideas. Work together.
Beyond the workplace
There are simple things we can all be doing to increase mutual understanding of our diverse experiences and work together towards eliminating discrimination.
You can commit to the following changes to your daily life:
Educate yourself. Research what’s going on in your community and your country. Read books and articles, watch documentaries, strive to be as informed as possible about experiences beyond your own.
Reflect. Self-reflect on your own stereotypes, prejudices, and overall biases that you may carry into your daily interactions. Try to identify your blind spots.
Communicate. Listen to the hardships experienced by historically oppressed individuals. Allow yourself to start a conversation and ask questions about discrimination. Be a part of difficult conversations that will enable a healthy exchange of ideas, thoughts, and experiences.
Get involved. Push for change at work, at school, in sports, and all of your daily activities to help historically oppressed people attain the justice they deserve. Be alert to blatant discrimination, microaggressions, and inappropriate behaviour. Speak up when you witness or are subject to discriminatory language, behaviour or practices.
Everything worth having takes time and effort. Start with yourself. Then branch out within your personal and professional networks to learn and grow together.
Don’t know where to start? Here’s how you can get involved now : Donate. Volunteer. Fight for change.
Here are organizations across the U.S. and Canada that are actively working in our communities to alleviate discrimination against marginalized groups:
Don’t be embarrassed or shy to start conversations and ask questions surrounding discrimination, inequality, diversity, and inclusion with your family, friends, and peers. Systemic discrimination is real and we need to work together to create effective change. Start now.
Bruenig, M. (2014). The Top 10 Percent of White Families Own Almost Everything: The overall wealth distribution picture is grim and getting worse. The American Prospect.
Desilver, D. (2013). Black unemployment rate is consistently twice that of whites. Pew Research Center.
Hewlett, S., Marshall, M., & Sherbin, L. (2013). How Diversity Can Drive Innovation. The Harvard Review.
Ross, J., & National Journal. (2014). African-Americans With College Degrees Are Twice As Likely to Be Unemployed as Other Graduates. The Atlantic.
Slaughter, G., & Singh, M. (2020). Five charts that show what systemic racism looks like in Canada. CTV News. https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/five-charts-that-show-what-systemic-racism-looks-like-in-canada-1.4970352