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How workplace leaders can address hate in society

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July 6, 2021
By Marcel Vander Wier

Do CEOs have a role to play in addressing hate within Canadian society?

How can companies assist in eliminating overt racism or hate speech?

In what ways can leaders use their privilege and platform to drive change?

These questions, and more, were the subject matter for Talent Canada‘s recent virtual event — “Taking A Stand: How organizations can overcome hate and inspire meaningful societal change.”


The June 23 panel consisted of CEOs Mike Rencheck of Bruce Power and Chris Inniss of Pathwise Credit Union, as well as Nigel Branker, president and executive vice-president of health and productivity solutions at LifeWorks.

A summary of their responses is below:

What is the role of CEOs and senior managers in addressing hate in society?

CEOs need to lead by example, said Inniss.

“We need to make the shift from not being racist ourselves, to actively being anti-racist. Our organizations owe it to society to… actively change the way that we do business fundamentally to meet the needs of our society.”

Companies need to look both internally and externally at what they do, in terms of how they can contribute to bettering society, said Rencheck. “If we do one positive thing a day, we can make a difference.”

Leaders are relied upon to build strategy and achieve objectives, added Branker. “When it comes to inclusion and diversity, there does need to be an executable strategy, both internally within the workplace, and externally in how you show up with your clients and your partners and your suppliers.”

While major incidents may be rare, how do you handle day-to-day incidents?

It’s about living your company values, said Inniss.

“You see a lot of global companies — you look at their North American Instagram right now, because it’s Pride Month, (it’s) rainbows. You look at their Middle Eastern Instagram, and it is standard logo. You look at their Russian Instagram; it’s standard logo,” he said. “Are those companies really living their values? Or is it just taking advantage of whatever situation — ‘Oh yes, we’re inclusive and we want your business, unless you don’t like that, and then we’re not.'”

“For us, we’re really making sure to meet people where they are, and encourage those uncomfortable and open conversations.”

A sustained shift requires a mix of behavioural and structural change, said Branker, similar to education and speed-limit signage in a school zone, paired up with a speed bump.

Awareness and provision of safe spaces for expression can assist workplace leaders when it comes to diversity, alongside structural changes to talent processes, such as recruitment and onboarding, he said. “You need to have the data.”

From the editor: Canadian CEOs take a stand against hate

How can organizations stamp out overt racism or hate speech?

Education is key to stamping out visible racism, said Rencheck, noting development of a strong culture that has an acceptance of diversity is key.

“It has to start with education, and really that openness and willingness to embrace each other… You don’t get there by not working together,” he said.

“Society can learn a lot from collaboration, and if there’s any one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that when we work together on things, we can be successful, and when we don’t work together, you can look at the consequences and see how dire they can be.”

A zero-tolerance approach works for Pathwise Credit Union, acknowledged Inniss.

“As leaders, we need to have empathy, and that empathy is having zero tolerance whatsoever for any of those kinds of comments.”

What concrete steps can organizations take?

Sustainable development goals, such as reduced inequality, can help move the needle, added Inniss.

“We actually are taking a look at our value chain and seeing, top to bottom — in everything that we do, what are ways that we can reduce inequality?” The hope is to change the corporate DNA so much, that it is impossible to return to the way things were before, he said.

It’s important to spend time listening to what your employees are telling you, said Rencheck.

“We actually changed our vision and our mission to be more reflective of the values of our employees,” he said. “If you can build a strong culture around solid fundamentals, it can take you through the highs and it can take you through the lows.”

Awareness is the first step, said Branker, but from there, it needs to move into action. Linking action to the overall business case can encourage sustainability, he said.

“Depending on where you are in your evolution, I do think the ‘stickability’ will be linked to the more you can make it a business priority, versus a societal priority. But I do think, obviously, doing the right things has a great impact on our communities and on society.”

How can CEOs and leaders use their privilege and platform to amplify victims’ voices?

Privilege is about having some type of power, and then what you do with it, said Branker.

It’s up to leaders to create the platform and space, role model behaviour and empower middle managers to drive sustainable change, he said.

“Culture is what people do when no one is looking — that’s what you want to shape.”

Leadership itself is a privilege, said Rencheck.

“True success is when you see the organization and the people accomplish what they’re aspiring to accomplish,” he said. “You can have a dramatic impact on those outcomes with your attention, with your development, with your advice, with your work assignments.”

“Our role in an organization is really to teach these outcomes that we want to attain. We’re chief stewards of the culture of the organization.”

CEOs also have an opportunity to vote with their wallets, said Inniss, including choosing to work with suppliers or vendors who offer their employees a living wage.

Are we at a tipping point in terms of corporations taking a stand against hate?

That answer depends on your company culture, said Rencheck.

“Actions need to follow the words. You literally need to look at the company’s values and culture as you go forward.”

Driving sustainable change is a journey, added Branker.

“I think the best organizations will be the ones that are early adopters around doing the right things. But I think the laggards will still be forced to have to tackle some of these to compete, depending on the role talent plays in your business results.”

Consumers may be the ultimate driver of this societal change, according to Inniss.

“It’s not going to be companies doing the right things because they have good hearts. I think it’s going to be consumers and investors that are doing the right things because they believe in the communities, and companies will have to follow suit, or perish.”

To view the full panel discussion, visit talentcanada.ca/virtual-events/taking-a-stand.

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