Keynote Address – Hadiya Roderique

Standing up for Inclusion.

“My first interview for Swiss Chalet was harder than any of my interviews for law firms,” said Hadiya Roderique, lawyer, writer and keynote speaker at the 2018 Hire Immigrants Ottawa Employer Summit. “At Swiss Chalet, they asked me about my future career goals, they made me do math. In one of my law school interviews, we talked about hockey and shoes for 20 minutes and I got a call back.”

In November 2017, Roderique wrote a piece called “Black on Bay Street” that was published on the front page of the Globe and Mail where she shared her experiences of racism and discrimination at law firms and highlighted how much further workplaces still have to go to be truly inclusive. Within the first week, Roderique’s article was shared 13,000 times on Facebook and the video was viewed about 200,000 times. Her story connected with people. “It made me realize that so many people feel like they don’t belong in the workplace. Not just immigrants, people of colour or women. When your employees feel that way, you’re not getting their best self and that’s a shame.”

“The ‘business case for diversity and inclusion’ troubles me.”

Given that there’s no research demonstrating that adding women and minorities to leadership roles worsens performance, why do we need to prove that including these groups is a good idea?

Why should we have to justify their inclusion? Given that parity should be the norm, is it not the company’s job to justify the exclusion of these groups, she argued. “It’s time we start answering questions about diversity and exclusion,” said Roderique. Research shows that companies that have no women on their board, on average perform worse than those who do.

“So why are we not asking these companies what their rationale is for having only men in the face of that information. We’re often asked well what’s the benefit of having women? Well, what’s the benefit to keeping women off?”

Addressing bias in hiring

Reflecting on her own experience, Roderique shared a story of her encounter with an interviewer who didn’t use standardized questions and asked interviewees “tell me your story.”

Roderique asked so, what’s a good story? What’s a bad story? The interviewer fumbled with her answer and talked about wanting to see people who worked hard to get where they are, perhaps working through school – for example, she had worked at a bar throughout her schooling.

“So you’re looking for people like you?” Roderique asked. When you have to explain your decision-making rationale to someone, why you prefer John over Jamal, it makes you more careful about your decisions. At the end of your hiring process, if you were required to give candidates feedback on why they were not hired, would you be able to? What would you say? If you can’t answer that question, she said, your process needs work.

Discrimination is not always the overt acts.

Discrimination can be subtle, normalized and overlooked and in many cases, more impactful than the overt acts. They serve as reminders that you are different and don’t belong. Drawing on another person example, Roderique said, during her first week of work at a law firm, she had a new briefcase and outfit and was feeling very proud of her look. In the elevator, another woman asked who she worked for. She had assumed Roderique was an assistant.

“One of the hardest things about micro-aggressions is when other people remain silent. You start to question whether it’s all in your head.”

“The diversity we have in Canada is very valuable,” Roderique said. “But too often we’re either trying to make everyone feel the same or pretend that everyone is the same.”

We need to highlight and not hide from differences. Diversity can be our greatest strength, if we acknowledge and embrace it.

So, how do you make things better?

Roderique left the audience with concrete actions to take back to their workplace in order to affect change.

How do you change your hiring processes to address bias?

  • Make it a design challenge. People like to solve interesting problems. See who in your organization can come up with a possible solution to addressing bias in your hiring processes.
  • Use software and analytics to help strip and screen resumes. You can’t figure out if you have a problem if you’re not keeping track. Tracking numerical progress towards gender and racial equality is essential because you tend to manage what you measure.
  • Think about what information you really need to know about the individual you are hiring. Do you know need to know they were the president of the Black Students Association or just that they were the head of a club that organized successful events?

What are common marginalizing actions that are problematic?

  • “I don’t see race/colour”. We all have eyes, and it means you are denying the fact that I have a different experience. You’re denying the fact that my skin colour does have an impact on how I live. I am reminded of the colour of my skin daily. Probably every hour.
  • Oppression Olympics. “At least you don’t have it as bad as women in Saudi Arabia!” It’s an attempt to trivialize, just because there’s oppression somewhere else doesn’t mean you’re not oppressed in your current situation.
  • Appointing someone as the spokesperson for an identifiable minority group. For example, “What do black people think about this?” Well, I don’t know all of them, and I can’t speak for all of them.
  • Using people of colour as tokens and a defense: “Well I can’t be X, I have a black friend.”

How can you be a good ally?

  • Educate yourself about the forms of discrimination your co-workers face. Asking people of colour to explain racism and oppression is well-intentioned but can place a burden on the communities you’re trying to assist.
  • Calling things out and training yourself to interrupt racist or sexist comments. Demand a respectful work culture for all of your co-workers from all of your co-workers. Do this even when they are not around.
  • Stepping up as an ally shows a lot of courage and you can lead by example. If you start calling out these behaviors, it provides the safe space for others to do it too, but it takes one person to start.
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