As we emerge from the pandemic and move toward the future of work, we cannot forget the systemic issues that were finally highlighted during the pandemic. The systemic issues affecting Black people in Canada are centred around the lack of access and sustainability in education, employment and health care for this community.
However, it is not enough to be aware that there is an issue. We cannot to take action to dismantle these systemic issues unless we truly understand what creates these barriers and the impact on the Black community. Without sustainability and access to the necessities of life that many take for granted, how does the Black community show up in the workforce? What is the future of work for the Black community?
Understanding the impact of anti-Black systemic structures
In February 2021, Statistics Canada looked at the impact of the economic disruption of the pandemic on one million Black Canadians in the Canadian labour market. According to the report, A labour market snapshot of Black Canadians during the pandemic, “Black Canadians experienced a higher unemployment rate than non-visible minority Canadians in the recent past.”
While we understand that many Canadians experienced significant economic and financial hardship during the pandemic, Black communities in Canada were already at a disadvantage prior to the pandemic due to systemic issues that created and continue to create barriers for the Black community.
The systemic racism we are now beginning to understand is not new. It has existed for hundreds of years – built on the foundation of chattel slavery which officially ended in Canada almost 200 years ago, creating a continuing racial wealth gap for Black communities in Canada.
Whether enslaved or free peoples, there have been restrictions on where Black communities could live, own and develop land, limiting economic security and sustainability in Black communities. Multigenerational wealth is still a struggle for Black communities, affecting their ability to consistently and equitably access higher-level education, food security and housing.
Is the workforce of the future widening systemic gaps?
On top of this landscape is the impending impact of automation and technology in the workplace, which the pandemic has escalated. According to estimates from the McKinsey Global Institute, companies have already invested between $26 billion and $39 billion in artificial intelligence technologies and applications. Businesses are aiming to significantly increase their productivity and capacity for innovation through the use of such technologies.
According to the previously referenced Statistics Canada report, in 2020, Black communities and other racialized groups were overrepresented in occupations likely to be most affected by automation and technology changes, such as food and health services and other previously people-driven services including manufacturing and production-line services. These communities are also underrepresented in fields such as education, health, and law and in leadership roles. Continuing automation could lead the Black community to have higher rates of potential job displacement when compared with other communities.
As indicated previously, Black communities have started from a position of inequity within the workforce. If this pattern is not addressed through the strengthening of local economies and developing reskilling and transition programs, in tandem with automation and technology, the racial wealth gap will continue to grow. This could have a significant and negative effect on the growth of intergenerational wealth and the stability of the Black community.
“Continuing automation could lead the Black community to have higher rates of potential job displacement when compared with other communities.”
A point of significant concern is the impact of automation and technology on youth within the Black community, who are currently transitioning from education to employment in a rapidly changing workforce environment. The lack of intergenerational wealth creates a societal and financial impact on this community, often interrupting the pathway to higher-level education and opportunities for development to prepare for the changing workforce landscape. Are education and opportunities for development more important than food security and housing? These are the societal and financial decisions that affect Black communities.
To create a foundation and build sustainability in the Black community, it is critical to focus on youth, providing programs now that will provide access to financial stability and subsequently to development opportunities and sustainable employment.
Strengthening equity and inclusion in workforce development
So, how do these communities prepare for the future? There are many challenges and barriers to addressing these inequities. However, organizations and industries can focus resources on efforts that actually build sustainability for Black communities by:
- Investing in long-term programs to develop and retain talent that are targeted to Black communities.
- Offering development programs that include mentorship and sponsorship.
- Offering access to learning development, reskilling and educational opportunities.
- Creating pathways to occupations that are at lower risk of disruption from automation and technology.
- Investing in new innovation and technology programs for Black communities.
- Providing education, skills development and support for extended periods, to help Black students and jobseekers with career transition opportunities.
- Understanding the societal and financial needs of the Black community and building flexible and adaptable learning opportunities that allow participants to continue to support themselves and their families. Educational scholarships and supports focused on Black communities can help decrease the educational attainment gap caused by financial and societal issues – potentially covering gaps in entrance and tuition fees.
- Sponsoring research programs to understand and improve post-secondary retention and completion rates for Black communities. Colleges and universities can better retain and graduate Black students through targeted programs that increase preparation and provide financial support.
If organizations and industries implement even one of these initiatives, the workforce landscape will begin to more positively affect the Black community.
Ingrid Wilson, CHRL, CMS, is Senior Director, Culture, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Walmart Canada. Wilson has almost 30 years of experience in corporate human resources, board, inclusivity and business strategy. She also holds several certifications in diversity, equity and inclusion, and has pursued excellence in strategic human resources and leadership through the CHRL designation, and through programs at Queen’s University and the University of Toronto.