WCM Perspective | Black Excellence in Canadian Finance: Celebrating Heritage, Shaping the Future

By Rosheeka (Ro) Parahoo, Interim Director & Senior Manager, Research & Advocacy | February 06, 2024

A long overdue transformation is seemingly underway in Canada’s finance industry. It's a change defined not by numbers on a balance sheet, but by the increasing prominence and continued resilience of Black women and gender-diverse professionals in the finance sector. This shift, marked by both celebrations and ongoing challenges, is an essential narrative in our understanding of this month’s Black History Month’s theme, "Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; a Future to Build".

Persistent Challenges

The journey of Black professionals in finance, particularly women, is riddled with systemic challenges. Stereotypes and bias, lack of representation, and unequal access to career development opportunities, including mentorship and sponsorship are only a few of the many obstacles that Black women professionals continue to face in and out of the corporate world.

According to a study by Catalyst in 2023, 44% of Black women report experiencing racism in their current job. Those who navigate various intersectionalities deal with additional complexities. For example, 31% of Black queer individuals report experiencing harassment in the workplace based on their gender and sexual identity. The lack of inclusive policies, limited role models, restricted access to leadership training, and barriers to promotion that others don’t face, further exacerbates the situation.

These issues are not only persistent at all levels of the corporate world, they notably work to actively prevent Black women and gender diverse professionals from being at the helm of corporations. For example, the latest McKinsey & Company report on Women in the Workplace (2023) shows the glaring disparities at the C-Suite level, with Black women representing a mere six per cent of executives compared to 57 % White men.

In Canada, Black women entrepreneurs continue to face increasing obstacles in accessing financing and managing borrowing costs. Their struggle is compounded by systemic racism and a dearth of networking opportunities, mentorship, and training. This reality isn't just a footnote in their professional journey; it's a central chapter that continues to shape their experiences.

Breaking New Ground

Recent Statistics Canada data shows that business, finance and administration was amongst the top occupations for Black professionals at 15.5 per cent out of which approximately 60 per cent were Black women specifically. Moreover, Black women’s share of incorporated and unincorporated business owners has increased from 2005 to 2018, and despite the impact of the pandemic, Black women entrepreneurs continue to build and develop successful businesses.

In 2024, it's both remarkable and disheartening that we're still celebrating "firsts" for Black women across Canada’s financial sector. While each milestone is undeniably worth celebrating, these achievements also underscore a persistent gap in equity and representation. The fact that we are still witnessing Black women break barriers that should have crumbled decades ago is a stark reminder of the systemic challenges that remain entrenched in our society. Every "first" is a celebration of progress and a call to action—a reminder that the playing field is far from even. It is imperative that we use these moments not just for applause but as a catalyst for continued, relentless pursuit of true equity.

The motivations driving Black women entrepreneurs are as diverse as they are inspiring. Increased flexibility in work, a passion from a young age, and a desire to address societal inequalities are just a few of the reasons behind their entrepreneurial journey. Many start businesses to celebrate and uplift Black/African/Caribbean culture, crafting an environment that intertwines professional success with cultural pride and community service.

Black women's success isn't just about making room at the table—it's about redesigning the table entirely, ensuring that successes are no longer celebrated as “firsts” but recognized as the norm they always should have been. The charge is clear: dismantle obstacles, foster an inclusive environment, and ensure that every Black woman has the opportunity to thrive - unimpeded in their pursuit of excellence.

A Future to Build

As we celebrate the heritage and achievements of Black professionals in finance, we must also turn our attention to the future. A future where the barriers they face are not just acknowledged but actively dismantled. A future where their resilience is matched by robust support systems. And a future where their successes are not exceptions but expectations.

This future hinges on the unwavering commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives. Research shows that 41% of instigations of racism come from leaders themselves; a significant number that requires continued emphasis on the principles of inclusive leadership, accountability, anti-racism training and clearly defined and enforced EDI policies. EDI policies and education have a positive impact between leaders and their direct reports, especially in their daily interactions. Values of equitable leadership, pay transparency, psychologically safe work environments and workplace flexibility are not just ethereal morals, they are essential actions to breaking down persistent barriers.

For change to truly happen the active and authentic role of allies and institutions is pivotal. It's not enough to applaud from the sidelines; active engagement, policy changes, and tangible support are vital. Mentorship programs, sponsors, equitable access to financing, and inclusive hiring practices are just the beginning. The narrative of Black Excellence in Canadian finance is one of grit, innovation, and resilience. It's a story that deserves to be told, not just in the corridors of finance, and not just during an ‘awareness month initiative’, but across the broader tapestry of Canadian society. As we celebrate this heritage, we must also commit to building a future where Black Excellence is not just recognized but is an integral part of our collective financial and cultural wealth.

What is your reaction to the fact that the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women will be chaired by a man?