Anti-Racism & Organizational Change: A Guide for Employers

Publication Type
Anti-racism work
Subject Matter

ISSN: 978-0-660-49411-1
Cat. No.: HR4-102/2023E-PDF

Developed by Anti-Racism Scholar and Expert, Charles C. Smith, with Birgit Rohde

On this page:

“Canadians have the right to be treated fairly in workplaces free from discrimination, and our country has laws and programs to protect this right.” Department of Canadian HeritageFootnote 1
“As we focus on combatting racism, it is not sufficient to simply equip ourselves with knowledge and tools. We must take action in ways we know will be meaningful in addressing all barriers and disadvantages.” - Ian Shugart, Former Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, 2021Footnote 2


Today, Canadian workplaces are not the same as they were in March 2020. Recent incidents have had an impact on Canadian society with shocking reminders of Canada’s ongoing history of racism. Whether it was the discovery of burial grounds on Residential School sites or continued anti-Black and anti-Asian expressions of racism, including violent attacks – these incidents have triggered a resurgence of demands for society and its institutions to develop, adopt and act on anti-racism initiatives that are comprehensive and sustainable, ensuring employers in all sectors take leadership to address the past and recent history of racism in Canada.

The increasing numbers of Indigenous, Black and other racialized people in Canada makes it more important now than ever before for employers to consider the well-being of employees from all backgrounds. This is both a pressing moral and legal issue and, while engaging in anti-racism work is important in any time, it is critical now that we are seeing a gradual transition to post-pandemic workplace environments that are changing based on the following factors:

  • Canada’s current shift towards a “proactive compliance approach to human rights protection” means more responsibility for employers to counteract and actively prevent racial discrimination.Footnote 3
  • The racial reckoning of 2020 has shifted conversations about equality. Across all sectors, Canadian employers recognized that efforts towards racial equity were critical, central, and urgent. A flood of anti-racism statements was released, town halls convened, and training sessions held. But a year later, there was not much measurable change, which has reduced many employees’ trust.Footnote 4,Footnote 5
  • Many Canadian employers are facing the challenge of managing the return to a physical workplace and/or a dispersed workforce when many are still working from home. It has been reported that in particular racialized employees have negative expectations for a return to the office because of previous experiences of racial discrimination and/or exclusion now combined with personal and/or racial trauma and higher awareness of workplace racism.Footnote 6,Footnote 7,Footnote 8
  • There is greater recognition that there are differences in the expressions and impact of racism on different racialized groups – therefore, a need for specific strategies and actions to address them. The release of disaggregated racialized workforce data (breakdown by racialized groups)Footnote 9 suggest such approaches are needed to make sure that anti-racism initiatives address the different challenges faced by the different racialized groups in the workplace.Footnote 10
  • Changing demographics indicate that the growth of Indigenous, Black and other racialized population groups will continue to exceed the average annual growth for the Canadian population as a whole.Footnote 11,Footnote 12,Footnote 13 According to the population projections from Statistics Canada, about 2 in 5 Canadian will be part of a racialized group in 2041, accounting for 38.2% to 43.0% of the Canadian population, compared to 22% in 2016.Footnote 14

This situation has created growing awareness that the experiences during the last several years can and should be the reason for employers to actively support and advance anti-racism in the workplace and ensure organizational goals of equity, diversity, and inclusion are set within an anti-racism framework.

For the public sector, this was recognized in the Clerk of the Privy Council’s 2021 Call to ActionFootnote 15 for federal employers and leaders across the Public Service to take decisive action for change and set specific requirements for documentation and reporting.Footnote 16 And – relevant for all sectors – the legislation to ensure equal opportunities for employees from under-represented groups (Employment Equity Act) is “heading for its most significant overhaul since its introduction 35 years ago.”Footnote 17,Footnote 18

“The disruption and trauma of the past year have created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redesign working models from the ground up—with principles of diversity, equity and inclusion placed at the center [...].” - S. Subramanian and T. GilbertFootnote 19

It is clear that the time to advance anti-racism, equity and inclusion in the workplace is now. The question many employers have asked is how. In response to that question, this guide has been created to support public, private and not-for-profit sector employers who are looking for tools to educate effectively, create relevant strategies and implement short-and long-term measures to offer a workplace that is inclusive and equitable for employees of all Indigenous, Black and other racialized backgrounds, and that has measures in place designed to prevent or to interrupt any display of racist behaviours or actions.

In this guide, the focus on racialization and racism (including its intersections with other grounds of discrimination, e.g., gender, disability, religion)Footnote 20 does not suggest that other issues around discrimination have not arisen, continued, or worsened in Canada in the past years. But comprehensive human rights protection comes from comprehensively addressing each of the grounds defined in the Human Rights Act; and the Canadian Human Rights Commission is recognizing that by developing a series of employer tools. While these tools will focus on different human rights grounds, they are all based on the same fundamental understanding that Human Rights grounds must be seen and treated as interconnected and that actions to address them must be well-planned, resourced and sustainable.

Given these issues, the purpose of this guide is to provide information and practical suggestions for employers looking for guidance on how to approach anti-racism in their actions and planning in today’s changing workplaces. To do so, this document is divided into the following sections:

  1. Leadership for Implementing Anti-Racism Initiatives. This section addresses the important role an organization’s leadership can and must exhibit to fully support the design, development and implementation of a comprehensive approach to anti-racist organizational change;
  2. Promoting Anti-Racism in the Workplace. This section discusses the importance of using common language, raising awareness and communications across the organization, and conducting an organizational review of policies and procedures;
  3. Sustaining Anti-Racism in the Workplace. This section discusses the importance of workplace culture and norms that support the ongoing understanding and implementation of anti-racism efforts;
  4. Human Resources Strategies to Support Anti-Racism in the Workplace. This section addresses the steps that are integral to supporting the recruitment, selection and advancement of Indigenous, Black and other racialized peoples as well as setting a framework for and providing both mandatory and optional education/training programs;
  5. Anti-Racism and the Procurement of Goods and Services. This section addresses the importance of upholding anti-racism values and practices when engaging external contractors and service providers with an emphasis on those led by Indigenous, Black and other racialized peoples as well as those who are implementing anti-racism policies;
  6. Anti-Racism Action Planning and Assessing Results. This section discusses the importance of taking a measured strategic approach to planning, developing, implementing anti-racism initiatives and tracking their outcomes;
  7. Closing Thoughts. This section addresses the steps employers can take to acknowledge the importance of anti-racism with the aim of publicly supporting such work and noting its critical function in developing inclusive workplaces and influencing social values; and
  8. Bibliography of Useful Resources. This section provides references to resources noted in the preceding sections as well as an annotation of resources from various organizations, including statutory human rights agencies, the public service and not-for-profit sector, educational institutions and other organizations.

Each section begins with a brief summary of background information, then makes suggestions and recommendations for steps to take and provides additional resources available for more in-depth information. The flow of the topics reflects steps along an organizational change journey, but each section can be read as stand-alone, based on where your organization is on that journey.

This guide concludes with closing thoughts on the role public, private and not-for-profit organizations can take to impact public awareness on the importance of anti-racism, thereby, encouraging greater public awareness and creating social environment that is understanding and supportive of anti-racism in all sectors of society.

This is then followed up with a section identifying organizations that are engaged in good practices regarding the implementation of anti-racism work.

This guide is not a policy statement or action plan for addressing racism in the workplace. Rather, it is designed to assist employers in developing their own action and implementation plans to address their organization’s specific needs and priorities.

The resources in this guide are applicable for all employers and those tasked with implementing anti-racism measures – be it in the public, private or not-for-profit sector.Footnote 21

1. Leadership for Implementing Antiracism Initiatives

Within the context of Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which addresses substantive equality, an inclusive culture requires active management and deliberate leadership to drive vision and the appropriate resource allocation. This goes beyond the moral imperative: It is simply a necessity in order to take full advantage of the skills and experience Canada’s increasingly diverse workforce offers, and in order to engage, nurture, and retain those who drive organizational excellence. In doing so, leadership will need to acknowledge that diversity exists within Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities and should, therefore, undertake a disaggregated lens to the diversity within each of these communities.Footnote 22

As a consequence, inclusive leadership has become a “unique and critical capability”Footnote 23 for employers: Leadership must contribute to a culture of inclusion. That means visibly and consistently demonstrated leadership engagement and support is needed for long-term success. In large organizations, leadership will also need to ensure alignment with the corporate antiracist vision throughout all levels of management, which means paying attention not only to policies, but to formal and informal practices and decision-making processes. This will help both eliminate systemic discrimination and promote accountability across job functions and seniority levels.

How can it be achieved? Corporate Leadership can establish and promote vision and values by:

  • communicating commitment to develop and implement anti-racism initiatives that address governance and operations, including decision-making and provision of programs and services, as well as leadership modeling anti-racist attitudes and behaviours;
  • under-taking a comprehensive anti-racism organizational review and embedding anti-racism in organizational policies, procedures and structures, including education/training, employment as well as programs and services;
  • establishing and collaborating effectively with an Indigenous and anti-racism committee of staff supportive of such an initiative; and
  • allocating sufficient resources, including retention of an internal and/or external resource(s) to support and guide the change process.

Several areas are critical to address for this to be successful in an organization, and actions in these areas will decide the role and the influence Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees have in an organization, as employees, decision-makers, contract service providers, and clients and/or service recipients. These areas are:

  • Strong, clear and consistent leadership guided by the values and principles discussed in this resource; and
  • Involving Indigenous, Black and other racialized staff in creating the relevant policies and procedures at all levels of the organization.

This is particularly important given the intersections between racialization and other social identities that have been the target of discrimination. The notion of ‘intersectionality’ has been defined by legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. Her concern in defining this term was to demonstrate ways that various forms of oppression combine with racism, and why it is important to acknowledge and address those lines of intersection.

“The concept of intersectionality describes the ways in which systems of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class and other forms of discrimination “intersect” to create unique dynamics and effects. For example, when a Muslim woman wearing the Hijab is being discriminated, it would be impossible to dissociate her female* from her Muslim identity and to isolate the dimension(s) causing her discrimination. “All forms of inequality are mutually reinforcing and must therefore be analysed and addressed simultaneously to prevent one form of inequality from reinforcing another. For example, tackling the gender pay gap alone – without including other dimensions such as race, socio-economic status and immigration status – will likely reinforce inequalities among women.”Footnote 24

This is important for organizations to address in taking leadership in implementing anti-racism change work. It is also very important for organizational leadership to note that the guidance provided in this document can be used to address other issues where discrimination is evident whether based on faith, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.

As is noted in the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy and guidelines on racism and racial discrimination “Racial discrimination can be impacted by related Code grounds such as colour, ethnic origin, place of origin, ancestry and creed. In addition, race can overlap or intersect with other grounds such as sex, disability, sexual orientation, age and family status to create unique or compounded experiences of discrimination.”Footnote 25

This understanding of the ways in which racism can overlap or intersect with other grounds is also reflected in the Government of Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy, which includes colonialism, anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism, Islamophobia and Antisemitism in its discussion of key terminology.

2. Promoting Anti- Racism in the Workplace: Finding Common Language

The racial and cultural diversity of Canadian workplaces is reflected in the difference in language we use when addressing racial identities, racism, and the many components of anti-racism work. Even commonly used words hold different meanings for different people, and this can cause confusion and potentially conflict when addressing topics related to race and (anti-)racism in the workplace.

There are no universally accepted definitions of many terms related to racism and anti-racism. Therefore, it is important for organizations to establish a shared understanding and a shared vocabulary within the organization before having these conversations.

This section provides a list of some of the most comprehensive glossaries of terms which will be useful for employers who want to start or expand the conversation about anti-racism in their organization and in doing so want to make sure that the language is consistent and inclusive, particularly given that the use of language on this subject is still evolving, and any glossary will need to be reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate this point:

  • The use of the term “Aboriginal” is limited today, although it was previously used in the same way as “Indigenous” is today.Footnote 26 Generally, non-Indigenous persons should find out which terminology a specific Indigenous group or individual prefers, and then use that consistently.Footnote 27
  • The fairly new term “Latinx” is not universally used in the population for whom it was created but is frequently used in advocacy.Footnote 28,Footnote 29
  • Also, the categories for racialized groups are changing over time. Statistics Canada therefore provides a detailed Population Group Reference Guide for each census, which can also be helpful for employers.Footnote 30

For further resources please click here.

2.1 Raising Awareness:

Public awareness of racism in past and present Canadian society has increased, along with public support to eliminate racism in society.Footnote 31 In the last two years, anti-racism work across sectors has gained momentum, and the results are renewed efforts to embed antiracist values, strategies and initiatives into the foundations of workplaces.

But when speaking to individual employees during organizational consultations, it often becomes clear that there is not enough awareness of

  • how certain practices can put specific racialized groups at a disadvantage;
  • what kind of behaviours would actually fall in the category of “racist’; and
  • how the specific set of circumstances that enable (systemic, intended and/or unintended) racist behaviours or practices in an organization can be changed by the organizational leadership.

To increase awareness and appreciation of the many forms in which racism may materialize in an organization means building a foundation on which an inclusive and actively anti-racist workplace culture can be built.

Given the shift in Canadian demographics, some employers may think that diverse, inclusive and anti-racist organizations will just happen naturally. But an organization that is not only diverse but also fundamentally inclusive, equitable and actively anti-racist doesn’t just happen; it is the consequence of deliberate, and sustained efforts. For example, an organization can have racial diversity among employees throughout the ranks but still be non-equitable and non-inclusive in its workplace culture, operational practices and even policies.

For further resources please click here.

2.2 Communications:

Employees at all levels must be made aware and kept informed of the corporate vision and agenda as it relates to antiracism, and this must be communicated through a clear and consistent set of messages that are endorsed by leadership (and/or board, if that is applicable). Important success factors include:

  • Transparency and touch points: Sharing not only an action plan but regular scheduled progress updates that include what actions have been taken, what effects they have had to date, and what the next steps and desired outcomes are for these steps
  • Ensuring communications are inclusive of and sensitive to individuals from diverse communities (for example subjects and images in organizational newsletters, when announcing days of significance, etc.)
  • Devising communication plans and strategies to effectively communicate commitment and progress reports within the organization and externally (for example website, emails, social media)
  • Keeping it top of mind by having anti-racism work as an agenda item at key meetings and retreats.

2.3 Organizational Review and Engagement:

Any organization taking on anti-racism work should consider it important to do three things:

  • identify any element/trace of racism in its policies, practices (e.g., programs and services) and governance;
  • eliminate any element/trace of racism in its policies, practices and governance; and
  • remedy all elements/traces of racism in its policies, practices and governance.

Engaging in anti-racism work begins with an assumption that there are likely barriers in place that limit and/or deny access by Indigenous, Black and other racialized peoples to the organization’s employment, decision-making and/or programs and services. As such, one of the most important actions for an organization to take is to involve its staff, decision-makers, service recipients and the public in a review of its policies, programs and procedures. This is done to ensure all of the organization’s functions and guiding principles are examined through an anti-racism lens. In this context, the organization’s leadership initiates a process to review these core principles and activities and does so involving its staff, board of directors and service recipients.

Following a comprehensive organizational review, the development of equity, diversity and inclusion and anti-racism (EDI AR) policies and procedures can provide the benchmarks needed to guide organizations in their development and implementation of plans to advance anti-racism. They require the following:

  • A Statement of Commitment.
  • Definitions of key terms that are consistent with human rights, addressing non-discrimination/harassment and anti-racism.
  • Clearly defined mandate/s for all committees or advisory groups that will work in this space.
  • Organization-wide, racially and culturally diverse employee-driven committee (in case of a national organization, regional diversity would also need to be considered as well) that will provide input and feedback on all policies and procedures related to equity, inclusion, and anti-racism.
  • Onboarding and training for all employees within the organization on anti-racism policies and procedures to ensure they are clearly communicated so that employees have realistic expectations of what is meant, how things will be done, how they can become involved, etc.
  • Community consultation if an organization’s work is in/for the community (for example, cultural organizations, non-profit and certain government agencies). A group of respected advisors from the Indigenous, Black or other racialized communities in question should be engaged to provide input and feedback on planned initiatives and implementation processes with impact on the community.
  • Recognition of Days of Significance (religious holidays, cultural events and celebrations, public holidays) that may be observed by employees:Footnote 32
    • For Canadian employers, this includes heeding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to ActionFootnote 33 and to recognize the First Nations’, Métis’, and Inuit peoples’ right to practice and teach their spiritual traditions and customs.
    • Accommodation requests will differ– it may be a full day off, or time off during a day, or modification of an employee’s work schedule for specific days.
    • Accommodation offers will differ between organizations depending on the company’s policy, the employee’s benefits plan, or a collective agreement (for example, whether they are based on two or three religious holidays, whether there is the option for additional unpaid leave for this purpose, or whether flexible scheduling options are possible).

There are several steps which can be taken to do this, including:

  • having the organization’s senior leadership, including its board of directors, make a firm commitment to supporting this work;
  • engaging with an internal and/or external resource(s) who can facilitate the organization’s review process, i.e., an Equity/Diversity/Inclusion/Antiracism Task Group (EDI AR). This provides expertise to the process to ensure that a thorough review is taken, discussed and steps identified to eliminate and remedy their impact;
  • establishing an internal team of staff from Indigenous, Black and other racialized backgrounds, as well as others who are supportive of this initiative. This team can serve as the organization’s internal feedback loop and connections with a broader pool of staff. Such a team can give input to the review as well as share communications on this from leadership to all staff. However, to ensure this staff team is able to engage effectively in this initiative, it will be essential for the employer to ensure they have adequate time and resources to do so;
  • establishing an external advisory group of Indigenous, Black and other racialized peoples, as well as others who are supportive of this initiative. This group can provide an external perspective to the process, identify issues that their communities face as it relates to the organization and provide information and access points for the organization to communicate to diverse communities.

For the organization to effectively choose whom to involve as staff and/or external supports, it will be useful to set criteria for the selection process, promote the opportunity widely and have a team to review applications. It will be essential to inform all potential applicants of the time required, the competencies needed and, in the case of staff, how they will be accommodated in terms of their day-to-day work.

3. Sustaining Anti- Racism in the Workplace: Changing Conversations & Cultures

The last few years have seen numerous publications on the issue of anti-racism, and the importance of integrating principles of racial equity and anti-racism into an organization’s work and operations. But less is available on the details of how to achieve this. Therefore, this guide is designed to provide and summarize current good practices, as well as recommendations and resources for the application in the workplace.

This is offered to address operational and workplace culture and to provide information on useful practices for organizations to implement and sustain anti-racism initiatives and how organizations can support, connect and build on relationships with their Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees. To do this effectively, it is important to understand workplace norms in order to shift workplace systems and culture.

As Marie-Claude Landry, the former Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, has put it:

The key to the success of this work is that it be never-ending.
It must be continuous, it must be evergreen, and it must be sustainable.Footnote 34

3.1 Understanding Workplace Norms:

In addition to the formal policies and procedures discussed above, it is equally important that we consider the unspoken workplace norms and cultural practices and their influence.

This may include assessing the following:

  • Organizational code of conduct or corresponding policies to ensure that all relevant documents reflect principles of equity, inclusion and anti-racism.
  • Interaction styles (peers, supervisors, senior management) and communication styles for not only accuracy but also demonstrating thoughtfulness and respect.
  • Cultural competencies – for example:
    • How are issues related to race discussed at meetings, for example of organization’s committees, educational sessions and retreats?
    • What are the work styles that are valued in your organization, and are unspoken expectations that work styles expected from certain demographic groups?
    • Are days of cultural and/or religious significance as they intersect with racialization and racism considered when allocating resources or planning a project/program?

3.2 Shifting Workplace Systems and Culture:

Given the scope and potential impact of any comprehensive anti-racism plan, it is important that employees (in particular Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees) believe in the goal and have positive expectations of the outcomes. A successful implementation of equity, inclusion and anti-racism initiatives requires trust. To earn it, leadership as well as senior management must have demonstrated their capabilities as well as their caring (“benevolence”)Footnote 35 and integrity.

For maintaining changes and improvements long-term, a culture and framework of accountability is needed. For example, performance evaluations should include an assessment of a manager or employee’s responsibilities related to the equity, inclusion and anti-racism initiatives. The principles of equity, inclusion and anti-racism should shape decision-making and culture.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission has produced two discussion papers – on Systemic Racism and on Religious Intolerance – to increase understanding of these important issues. This Guide should be read in conjunction with those tools.

When your organization assesses this, it is also important to look at whether the impact of any observed and addressed racially discriminatory behaviour had been different for one group compared to another – that might be different racialized groups being treated differently, or racially discriminatory behaviours that affect more racialized women than men (“intersectionality”).Footnote 36

Especially in large and long-established organizations, there may be challenges and resistance when the planned changes include restructuring of workplaces, the promotion of new social norms in the organization, monitoring during implementation, and last not least, mandatory education and training, particularly during the implementation phase/s of an anti-racism action plan. It is therefore helpful to be proactive and monitor

  • Non-harassment/violence prevention actions, including actions to address Subtle Acts of Exclusion (aka micro-aggressions)
  • Adherence to workplace Code of Conduct
  • Demographics across job levels: How diverse are middle and senior management?
  • Turnover for Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees (comparing across job levels)
  • Participation levels from these communities in key organizational activities, for example strategic planning and ongoing involvement in EDI AR policy, procedures, programs and services review and communications on these.

4. Human Resources Strategies

Your human resources department will be responsible for operationalizing organizational values and principles related to equity, inclusion and anti-racism.

To ensure that the organization’s workforce reflects the diversity of the community requires to not only attract diverse job candidates but also to ensure the organization is prepared to ensure that they can flourish. This means not only promoting employment opportunities through channels that reach a diverse target audience but also having equitable interview practices, providing professional development opportunities and having an effective mentoring program and succession planning approach.

4.1 Recruitment

To identify recruitment strategies, the Human Resources department will need to know the racial/cultural composition of the current workforce. Therefore, the first step has to be an organizational workforce “census” and breaking down the data by racial/cultural groups to compare representation across levels of seniority, and across departments. There are now several efforts underway to not only identify the various Indigenous, Black and other racialized peoples in Canada but to go beyond the homogenizing categories identified in many policies and procedures that address “visible minorities” and “Indigenous peoples” as if they are the same.Footnote 37

Next steps could include:

  • Seeking workforce availability information for the organization’s sector and using this to compare with the organization’s own representation of Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities.
  • Establishing strategies to attract the desired candidates and using networks within Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities to promote employment opportunities.
  • Highlighting the organization’s commitment to anti-racism in recruitment and promotional materials.
  • Involving individuals from Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities in the recruitment process where this is possible based on the team in question.
  • Participating in public and private sector programs to connect with students from Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities.
  • Conducting an employment systems review.

4.2 Interviewing Practices

The successful completion of an interview can open the door to a career - it may even change a life. Therefore, the interview process must be a fair and unbiased instrument based on occupational requirements, designed to measure the required competencies of all candidates.

This can be done by:

  • Having agreed-upon job descriptions and weighted selection criteria related to the job requirements;
  • Reviewing interview questions through an EDI AR lens to ensure standard approaches and the same set of non-biased questions are used for all candidates;
  • Providing clear descriptions of the organization’s expectations and clarifying the decision-making process for candidate selection;
  • Probing on alignment of values:
    • Using an interview format that probes cognitive and behavioural competencies so as to assess broader range of candidates’ capacities as well as understanding and education/training on human rights and anti-racism;
    • Educating those involved in interviewing on these matters;
  • Promoting and providing reasonable accommodation for those who may require it, i.e., persons with disabilities and of diverse faiths;
  • Ensuring interviews provide enough time for all candidates to bring forward their strengths;
  • Involving individuals from Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities in the interview process; and
  • Ensuring that interviewers of a candidate arrive at decisions independently - for example, each interviewer has to assess candidates’ interviews separately and rate them online, before discussing the results of individual scoring in a group.

4.3 Professional Development, Education and Training:

One of the key indicators of anti-racism is for public and private sector organizations to have the faces, voices and cultures of individuals from Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities represented at leadership level. To achieve that, employees from all racial backgrounds need to have opportunities for desired professional development so that they can advance based on their full potential.

For example, to prevent perceptions of manager’s bias, manager-nominated access should not be the only option to access professional development. Multiple options should be provided, including mentorships, secondments, access to non-advertised positions, etc. To do this, it is essential that managers establish specific plans to support the development and advancement of Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees.

As well, education and training help develop and maintain a common understanding of:

  • what an organization’s equity, inclusion and anti-racism initiatives want to achieve;
  • why this is relevant for this specific workplace;
  • why this offers benefits for all (for example, inclusive interaction styles and avoiding acts of exclusion/microaggressions improve all team member’s work-related quality of life); and
  • what will be expected from staff, managers, HR, and leadership.

Therefore, training must be planned systematically and must be aligned with an organization’s action plan, so that it can support the implementation step by step. Of course, that does not exclude the addition of unplanned events if an opportunity presents itself (for example, to engage a specific speaker, or to respond to a specific event).

The first question when planning equity, inclusion and anti-racism training is usually: Should it be mandatory? The answer depends on the content.

Types of training that should be mandatory and participation documented include:

  • Leadership training designed for executives, directors, managers and staff with supervisory and/or team leader responsibilities to:
    • Advance inclusive leadership strategies
    • Advance ability to create effective organization wide anti-racism action plans
  • Management training designed to:
    • Prevent/eliminate bias from work assignments, eligibility for professional development, and/or performance evaluations
    • Ensure that all managers are aware of accountability measures
  • HR staff training designed to:
    • Foster cultural competence, for example, to ensure that HR staff have awareness, sensitivity and appreciation of other cultures and know how to interrupt bias in themselves and others
    • Support race-based data collection and comparison between racialized groups recognizing that the workplace experience is not the same for all racialized groups,Footnote 38
  • Staff training designed to:
    • Introduce key ideas and language of inclusion and anti-racism
    • Ease conversations about race (“First, do no harm”)
    • Help employees avoid bias and acts of exclusion (“microaggressions”) and to employ actions within the context of Subtle Acts of ExclusionFootnote 39 in daily interactions
    • Understand Intersectionality and the relationship of racism to other “-isms” (sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc.)
    • Support becoming better allies through self-awareness education/training

Types of training that should be not mandatory include:

  • Information on history or customs related to specific cultures, for example on Days of Significance
  • Information on latest demographic changes in Canada
  • Lunch and Learn Speaker series

Other considerations when planning training include:

  • Avoiding “education fatigue”: Whatever training is offered (or mandatory to attend) must be relevant to the specific workplace and have practical value. Sessions don’t necessarily have to be stand-alone events – for example, they could be combined with or integrated into department- or task-specific skills training or professional development sessions.
  • Avoiding extra burden on racialized employees: Anti-racism training should not just assume that racialized employees want to share personal experience and stories. Unless they express interest or suggest it, they should not be asked to support a training session, or lead a discussion centered around their identity. Educating others about topics related to experiences of discrimination or disadvantage can be mentally exhausting and for some quite distressing.
  • Finding the right training provider/s: Given the flood of anti-racism training programs/sessions that have been developed and offered in the last two years, it is a challenge to choose programs or education providers, and it is different for each industry and sector. The Human Rights Commissions in each Canadian province and territory as well as recognized local anti-racism organizations (for example, the City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism (CABR) Unit, Colour of Poverty Coalition, and the Federal Government Anti-Racism Secretariat, will be able to provide support. Also, the end of this Guide, resources by sector are provided that can help guide the decision-making.

For further resources, please click here.

4.4 Mentoring:

Mentoring provides opportunities for junior or newly hired employees to learn from senior staff in the organization. In mentoring relationships, knowledge, skills as well as the organizational values and culture are transferred. Mentorship programs have been especially successful in increasing both promotion and retention rates of racialized employees and increasing the rate of racialized representation at manager level.Footnote 40

Public and private sector organizations can support this by:

  • Establishing plans to provide meaningful opportunities that can lead advancement for Indigenous, Black and other racialized peoples.
  • Setting selection criteria for those to be mentored with anti-racism considerations included, e.g., knowledge of Indigenous, Black and other racialized peoples and how their lived experience impacts on the employers programs, services, staffing, and relationships with these communities.
  • Monitoring mentoring program through an intersectional lens – avoiding that for example, specific racial groups are underrepresented (based on their percentage in the organization’s workforce), that Indigenous and/or racialized women might be underrepresented, that racialized employees with disabilities are underrepresented, etc.
  • Providing introductory education for potential mentors and mentees, so that they have a clear understanding of the relationship and of their responsibilities to each other and to the organization. Ineffective mentoring can be damaging, as can “over-mentoring” that creates an unrealistic workload.
  • Ensuring that the mentee’s direct supervisor is informed and supportive.
  • Providing opportunities for individuals from Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities to discuss their cultural background and values and what they may add to the organization – for example in “reverse mentorship” relationships which can help senior staff and leadership understand issues and barriers potentially faced by their Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees.

4.5 Performance Development and Appraisal:

Within the context of implementing anti-racism, it is both important to support professional development for all staff, particularly for Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees, and to hold staff accountable for implementation. This can be done through performance development and appraisal that provides:

  • A framework for all staff to understand their roles and responsibilities for implementing the organization’s anti-racism actions;
  • Support to developing the required competencies, knowledge and skills, to be successful on this;
  • Support to and understanding of the value of the lived experiences of Indigenous, Black and other racialized staff, in particular, in contributing to the organization’s anti-racism actions;
  • A regular system of assessment of each staff’s actions that contribute to the organization’s anti-racism actions as well as methods of accountability; and
  • A framework for the organization to regular assess and act upon the professional development needs of the organization’s staff as a whole and/or by department, division, unit.

While performance development and appraisal has traditionally been understood as a matter for individual employee support, it is also critical for the organization to assess the aggregate of identified staff needs for professional development through this process and, based on this, develop and implement actions to support both individual employees and the organization in the implementation of anti-racism actions.

5. Procurement of Goods and Services

An inclusive approach to procurement of goods and services with the goal of supplier diversity is an important component of organizational anti-racism efforts.

Inclusive procurement means eliminating potential barriers for qualified suppliers from underrepresented or marginalized groups to register as suppliers and to access contract opportunities. Employers who want to engage diverseFootnote 41 external supplier companies ownedFootnote 42 and operated by people who are Indigenous, Black, people of colour, or other marginalized people can seek support from:

  • the wide range of diverse business associations in Canada, e.g., Black Business and Professionals Association, Canadian Aboriginal and Minority Supplier Council, and
  • the member organizations of the Supplier Diversity Alliance Canada (SDAC), which provide certification for diverse suppliersFootnote 43

To ensure the impact can be measured, organizations need to collect data from potential and current suppliers. This can be done by inviting suppliers to:

  • advise if their company has been certified as diverse supplier by a certifying council such as the members of the Supplier Diversity Alliance Canada (SDAC, mentioned above);
  • self-identify if their business is owned and operated by Indigenous, racialized, women, persons with disabilities or other marginalized people; and
  • confirm that their company policies are addressing EDI AR and that employees have received information/education on these policies.

All suppliers should be made aware of the contracting organization’s efforts to advance EDI AR, of the importance of shared values in contracting assignments (bidding process as well as single sourcing process). Potential suppliers should receive the relevant hiring company’s policies addressing EDI AR. Needless to say, that alignment is particularly important if an employer is engaging external recruiters when looking for new employees.

Not all suppliers will be in a position to have such policies in place and/or to provide education/training to its employees – for example, very small owner-operated companies or very specialized niche suppliers. However, it is still important that the supplier agrees in writing to adhere to the hiring company’s policies and procedures. Managers who are engaging suppliers will then be responsible for reporting promptly if a supplier’s conduct or behaviour is not adherent to EDI AR related policies and procedures.

The specifics should be described in a policy document and confirmed with the supplier in writing (for example, in a Memorandum of Understanding).

Importantly, inclusive procurement is about adding opportunity and benefits for both suppliers and employers by:

  • creating economic opportunities for suppliers from marginalized people and groups; and
  • widening the range of sourcing options for companies looking for the best supplier for a job.

As well, organizations seeking diverse suppliers should consider developing a roster of suppliers and give thought to rotating contracts between eligible suppliers of goods and services that meet appropriate criteria and contract specifications.

For further resources, please click here.

6. Action Planning And Assessing Results:

As is likely evident from the sections outlined above, developing and implementing an EDI AR program is quite challenging as it is comprehensive, sensitive, critical and will take time, e.g., to engage the workforce, secure expertise, involve external resources and to connect/communicate with program/service users and the public. This may seem like an impossible task; however, a strategic approach is required, and a clear road map set out that identifies:

  • goals and objectives;
  • timeframes for actions;
  • who is responsible for implementation;
  • the resources needed to support this;
  • what the potential outcomes might be;
  • how the actions will be assessed during implementation; and
  • how progress will be evaluated over a 3–5-year timeframe of implementation.

Once an organization makes a formal commitment to implementing an anti-racism initiative, it is important that its leaders are accountable to ensuring the initiative runs well and achieves its intended results. This is a step-by-step process that should be assessed annually to decide whether or where the implementation plan needs to be adjusted.

This assessment requires clear indicators, timelines, and mechanisms of accountability. It also requires the collection and tracking of data, including race-based employee information. In the public sector, this is now required and is permissible under federal human rights law.Footnote 44 Collecting data for a purpose consistent with the Canadian Human Rights ActFootnote 45 is permitted, and it is aligned with Canada’s federal Employment Equity Act (Section 15)Footnote 46 and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.Footnote 47

A comprehensive assessment should answer the following questions:

  • Have the organization’s leaders committed to specific anti-racism goals and has this become part of their formal strategic plan?
  • Who is responsible for leading the implementation?
  • How frequent and in-depth was the consultation with racialized employees and/or stakeholders?
  • How frequent, in-depth and customized was training/education provided? What was mandatory?
  • How was progress monitored and communicated?

For each of those areas, a clear and consistent framework should include:

  1. What was the intended outcome (goal)?
  2. What is the evaluation question?
  3. What would be signs of progress?
  4. Who (person, stakeholder group, department) or what (documents, procedures) should be consulted to find out?
  5. What is the result of that consultation - the actual outcome?

For further resources, please click here.

7. Closing Thoughts

No two organizations will have the same starting point on the pathway to create an equitable, inclusive and anti-racist workplace. Knowing your organization’s starting point based on current data and evidence is the first step – not gathering those data at the beginning can lead to missteps later on (communications that don’t resonate with your employees, training programs that are not well received, etc.).

And like all organizational change work, the path is not a straight one but a cycle of regular assessment and adjustments, for example by re-prioritizing actions or re-allocating resources. Anti-racism is about remaining actively engaged, and has to be part of strategic planning cycles.

Public and private sector employers play a role in our communities. This is an important consideration as these employers can contribute to shaping public opinion. As such, it is very important for organizations involved in antiracism efforts to consider the impact they can have individually and/or in concert with other organizations. For example, after the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) report and after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, many public and private sector organizations put out statements in support of the TRC’s recommendations and of Black Lives Matter’s calls for justice and an end to violence against Black bodies. For any organization who wants to engage in anti-racism work (or advance the work they are already doing), making such a statement in a sincere, sensitive and timely manner and followed by measurable actions sends a strong message to its employees, its service and program users, and the public about the importance of Indigenous, Black and other racialized peoples and the need for justice and security in their lives.

And in this work, it is important to understand that this is a process and a journey for everyone involved:

“You don’t need to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”
- Ijeoma OluoFootnote 48

8. Resources by Subject

Glossary of Terms

Raising Awareness:

Inclusive Leadership and Organizational Culture:


Collecting race-based data



  • United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. General Recommendation No. 25 on Gender Related Dimensions of Racial Discrimination. A/55/18. Annex V. March 20, 2000.

9. Resources by Sector

Needless to say, there are significant differences between sectors with regards to governance, obligations and organizational priorities. Therefore, the resources for further reading provided in this section have been divided by sector.

9.1 Provincial & Territorial Human Rights Agencies

While not all provincial offices provide in-depth anti-racism resources for employers, it is important for employers to know that customized information can always be provided upon request (special programs/event requests).

For a list of the provincial and territorial human rights agencies, see the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies:

9.2 Public Service Sector

A lot of antiracism work has been going on in this space. We mentioned early the Clerk of the Privy Council’s 2021 Call to ActionFootnote 49 for leaders across the Public Service to take decisive action for change and set specific requirements for documentation and reporting.Footnote 50 Further, the legislation to ensure equal opportunities for employees from under-represented groups (Employment Equity Act) is “heading for its most significant overhaul since its introduction 35 years ago.”Footnote 51,Footnote 52 thus, a growing number of antiracism resources have been made available by and for the Public Service Sector.

9.3 Community and registered non-profit organizations

Over the last two years, Canadian non-profit organizations have stated or reasserted their commitment to incorporating equity, inclusion and anti-racism within their programming, governance, recruitment/hiring process and employee training. The focus will of course be different and depend on the organization’s mandate and mission.

9.4 Educational Institutions as Workplace

On December 18, 2020, the Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission took the unusual step to publish her Open LetterFootnote 54 and thus, publicly calling Ontario academic institutions to account for failing to ensure that their equity policies have adequate impact in addressing discrimination and racism. She stated that “universities and colleges must take a hard and unflinching look at the ways their policies, practices, and attitudes perpetuate discrimination.”

The pandemic was by no means the first instance of the issue of racism at Canadian, colleges and Universities being raised within Canada’s postsecondary institutions.Footnote 55 Some institutions had seen multiple reports on the matter commissioned and recommendations subsequently not implemented.

However, the pandemic was a watershed moment that revealed the degree of racist incidents and discriminatory impact of campus structures and procedures.Footnote 56 Consequently, a number of post-secondary institutions are currently planning and implementing measures designed to create significant structural change. The rise in demand for expertise in developing and implementing anti-racist strategies in the workplace has even led to academic programs developed specifically for this area.

Please note that given the longer history of on-campus anti-racism work in the US compared to Canada, this section includes American resources.

9.5 Labour Organizations

A number of Canadian unions have in recent years undergone equity audits and developed anti-racism strategies; understanding that that a labour movement cannot hope to remain relevant and to achieve social and economic justice when racial inequities continue to persist. Therefore, those unions are engaging as organizations in efforts to advance the priorities of Black, Indigenous, and racialized workers, be it through advocacy, education or at the bargaining table with the goal to make the fight against racism a priority at the and “build [...] an anti-racist labour movement”.Footnote 57

9.6 Continuing Education Programs

The rise in demand for expertise in developing and implementing anti-racist strategies in the workplace has led to programs developed specifically for this area.