Black History Month is a dedicated time to honour the legacy, contributions, and culture of Black Canadians. But while Black History Month is marked in February, a true celebration of Black history is more than just a month-long engagement.

It’s recognizing that anti-Black racism is deeply embedded in society and workplaces – and that Black Canadians and Black workers must be championed throughout the year.

Authentic Allyship and HR’s Role in Addressing Anti-Black Racism

HR leaders are in the position to influence their organizations and they can have an outsized impact on how people feel at work.

Racism is alive and well in our workplaces. In a 2021 York University study, 96% of Black Canadians said racism is a concern at work, and 78% stated that the workplace racism they’ve noticed is severe.

That’s why we need advocates and allies who can act against anti-Black racism at all times, not just on special occasions. HR leaders can act as allies by implementing practices and policies that protect and uplift Black employees and people of colour and creating opportunities where they can thrive.

Remember, effective allyship is rooted in intentionality and solidarity – and it’s about confronting social injustices (like racial inequality) and taking real action against it. Genuine allyship is also about being consistent, bolstering the efforts of those who are fighting for equity and justice, while holding yourself accountable to the needs of equity-deserving groups.

Solidarity is not the same as support. To experience solidarity, we must have a community of interests, shared beliefs and goals around which to unite […]. Support can be occasional. It can be given and just as easily withdrawn. Solidarity requires sustained, ongoing commitment.

– bell hooks, Social Activist and Cultural Critic

Performative allyship, by contrast, is about publicly professing solidarity with an equity-deserving group and a given set of values, without actually challenging the social injustices and systems that oppress that community. For example, changing your company social media logo to incorporate something about Black History Month during the month of February, while taking no steps to tangibly support Black workers at the organization throughout the year. It’s self-serving and it’s the kind of allyship that can negatively impact Black employees, and erode workplace trust, culture and psychological safety.

To create a more authentic work environment, consider how performative allyship might operate in your workplace and how you and your organization can better align your voiced values with your private actions.

How to Celebrate Black History Month

Here are some ways to honour Black History Month meaningfully this February and throughout the year and become a better ally to your Black colleagues in the process. (Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list and you’re encouraged to keep learning, unlearning, and relearning.)

Even with the best of intentions, we tend to learn about the same notable and respected figures (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.) But there are countless other Black trailblazers who’ve made an indelible mark on Canada’s social fabric too (e.g., Rosemary Brown, Lincoln Alexander.) Why not learn more about them and their contributions?

Beyond that, consider exploring the often-hidden parts of Black history that still impact race relations today.

Workplace policies are either anti-racist or they uphold the status quo. To ensure yours is the former rather than the latter, it’s important that workplace policies empower your Black workers and include practices that address racism.

Last fall we released Addressing Racism and Racial Discrimination, a new professional guidance document designed to help HRPA members, firms and students understand how racism manifests in the workplace. Together with the Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct, this guidance provides HR professionals with the tools and outlines the professional expectations needed to establish inclusive and anti-racist workplace policies and practices.

Access the resource

Pay Equity Certificate
Did you know that in a recent report from CivicAction, Black Canadians earn $0.80 for every $1 earned by non-racialized Canadians, even when both groups have university degrees? The racial pay gap is real and as an HR leader, the Pay Equity Certificate course can help you address this.

HR Power Lunch Sessions to Challenge Unconscious Bias According to Randstad, “Leaders are more likely to accept ideas from people who look like them (this is called similarity bias). Current leadership roles are overwhelmingly white and male (72% of senior management and executive roles are held by white men), leading to the perpetuation of a white, male worldview in business.”

If you’re in a place of privilege in Canada, consider the unconscious biases that may be clouding your perspective and judgement. As an HR professional, it’s important to think critically about race and privilege, even if it’s uncomfortable. Upcoming unconscious bias events to check out:

Other Programming
There are many more HRPA programs, certificates and workshops centered around diversity, equity and inclusion:

Acting in allyship requires HR leaders and businesses to make space for Black workers. It’s ensuring Black team members are treated fairly and heard. Maybe you conduct a survey or hold discussions with your Black team members to assess this? (Just be sure that in the process you don’t inadvertently place undue pressure on Black and racialized people to be the voice for their entire community.)

Workplace discrimination happens but it can be subtle so also analyzing the data on your DEI programs can be another way to determine if you and your company are in solidarity with your Black employees. Consider what percentage of new hires are Black, for example. How many Black employees received promotions in the last year? Can you improve your hiring processes so that they’re more inclusive?

Bottom line:  Your DEI programs and celebration of Black history should continue beyond Black History Month.

Don’t forget that one of the most important parts about being a better ally is ongoing self-education. Course-correcting, listening to Black HR leaders and employees, prioritizing learning and examining your own actions are some of the best ways to ensure you and your organization are improving the work experiences for Black Canadians year-round.