Episode 12: Dr. Hadiya Roderique – Working While Black: A Conversation About Race in the Workplace

Erin Davis: Welcome to Episode 12 of REAL TIME, a podcast for and about REALTORS®, and a presentation of the Canadian Real Estate Association. We are all about ideas surrounding topics that impact you as a REALTOR®, and really all of us. I’m your host Erin Davis, and today we’re discussing working while Black, a conversation about race in Canada that hits home and homes in far more ways than one.

No one should be demeaned or disadvantaged because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other particular characteristics of their identity. However, acknowledging a problem and resolving a problem are two completely different things. In this episode of REAL TIME, we’re opening up a much-needed conversation around confronting and addressing bias in our day to day lives, and we’re analyzing opportunities for improvement that exists for REALTORS®, leadership, and beyond. You’ll hear from three of your fellow CREA members sharing their experiences. In one case, one guest discloses something he’s never talked about publicly before. I promise you’ll be glad you listened today.

We begin with Dr. Hadiya Roderique. She is a lawyer, researcher, broadcast commentator, and an award-winning writer. She’s best known for her Globe and Mail piece Black on Bay Street, which outlined her experiences as a young Black woman working in a Bay Street law firm. She also has bylines in the Walrus, the National Post, Chatelaine, and Maclean’s. Dr. Roderique has a PhD in organizational behaviour from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. She also has an MA in criminology and a JD from the U of T. She’s a passionate advocate for representation and inclusion in the workplace, and she joins us today on REAL TIME. Dr. Roderique, welcome. It’s lovely to have you with us here today.

Dr. Hadiya Roderique: Thank you for having me, a pleasure to be here with the Erin Davis.

Erin: With the Dr. Hadiya Roderique, come on. Your essay, Black on Bay Street went viral in 2017. I’d urge anybody who’s listening who hasn’t read it yet to look it up. It was shining a light on the challenging experience of a Black woman working in a traditionally white male-dominated industry. Can you describe that experience and tell us why you chose to write about it?

Dr. Roderique: Initially, I never meant to write about myself. The piece was really supposed to just be about the Bay Street hiring process, which I frankly thought was quite ridiculous. My interviews for Swiss Chalet when I was 17 were harder than many of my Bay Street interviews. At Swiss Chalet, they asked me questions about math, and where I wanted to be five years from now, and what school I was planning on going to because they want to know if I’d be a long-term employee.

In one of my Bay Street interviews, we talked about Manolo Blahnik’s and hockey for 20 minutes, and then I got a call-back. I really didn’t understand how most of what I was asked would tell them what kind of student I was, what kind of person I was, and what kind of lawyer I’d be. I really sat down to write this more academic examination of the way that the Bay Street hiring process took place, but then when I sat down to write, it’s like a different story poured out of my fingertips, and it turned out to be the story of my experiences.

I was one of only five Black law students in my class of about 200. I was, when I joined the firm, one of two Black female lawyers, and when I left the firm, I was the only Black female lawyer. My firm had five Black lawyers, which to my knowledge, was the most of any firm on Bay Street. We were doing well, but I was still so alone.

Erin: How did this blow up the way that it did? Obviously, it was a message that resonated and needed to be heard, needed to be told, but tell us how it affected you and your life after this just caught fire.

Dr. Roderique: To be frank, came out on a Saturday, and I thought that everybody would forget about it by Monday. The news cycle is pretty quick. Things turn over. I was actually writing another piece for the National Post and doing a social media cleanse. I logged into Twitter and tweeted, “I wrote a thing,” and put a link to the piece, and then put my phone aside. Then about an hour later my phone just basically started vibrating. I think I was getting a new Twitter follower every minute. My piece was getting shared. It was going viral.

I think in the first week, it was shared on Facebook 13,000 times. There is a video that accompanied the peace that the Globe recorded, and that was watched, I believe, 250,000 times in the first week. I did not expect any of this. I didn’t think I was saying anything that was news to anybody. I didn’t think that people didn’t realize that it was harder for someone whose gender and race doesn’t match up with what we expect of a Bay Street lawyer, that that experience would be more difficult. It really shocked me that this was something that resonated with so many people.

It wasn’t just other people of colour. I got a lot of messages, and I still get messages from people who’ve read the piece, but I got messages from white men who didn’t feel like they belonged, who didn’t feel like they could belong into this boys’ club mentality, who felt they were a bit different. It was just really interesting to me how many different people were able to see themselves in my story, because I think, ultimately, it was just really a story about not belonging. I don’t think that there’s anybody who hasn’t at some point in their life felt like they didn’t belong.

Erin: Now, February, of course, is Black History Month in Canada, and most or many Canadians would be proud to say, “We’re not racist,” but you’ve noted how even well-meaning people often unconsciously perpetuate bias and racism in the workplace and other interpersonal settings. How would you define, Dr. Roderique, unconscious bias, and how we can recognize it in our own lives?

Dr. Roderique: I would define it as social stereotypes and patterns and thought processes that guide our decisions without us realizing it. I think a lot of people associate racism with there’s capital R racism and then there’s not being a racist. They associate capital R racism with hoods and people using slurs and violence, and you’re either that or you’re not racist, especially in Canada. We compare ourselves to the States a lot in this idea of Canadian exceptionalism.

People fail to recognize that there’s a lot of gray. It isn’t just Black or White, racist or not. There’s a lot of different actions and different things you can do that you might not realize are enacting on these prejudices or stereotypes that you hold. It’s not that you’re someone reviewing resumes, and you’re like, “Black resume, no, no, no, no,” but it’s the fact that maybe you didn’t notice that you were a harsher judge of their education or experience without realizing where that judgment was coming from, or you see a particular type of experience and you assume X about it, when you assume Y when it’s a White person having that same kind of experience.

A lot of people who are hiring are trained in diversity, inclusion, and unconscious bias, yet when we send out resumes with Black and White names, or we send out resumes where people have whitened the experience of the Black people, and the whitened resumes or the White resumes get 50% more callbacks or two and a half times more callbacks, that has to be explained by something. The only explanation can be racism and bias, if everything else on those resumes is identical.

One of the first studies sent out, I think, 2500 resumes with Black and White names, and the White names got 50% more callbacks. The experimenters wanted to know, what would it take for the Black person to get the same callback rate as that White individual? They had to add eight years of experience to Jamal’s resume for Jamal to get the same callback rate as Greg. That has to come from somewhere.

Erin: Wow. That’s startling when you hear it in empirical terms like that, laid down as data and not just feelings or conjecture. That is astounding. You yourself walked this path as you lay out in Black on Bay Street, where your father and mother, Joseph and Judith, and you could have been, Jody.

Dr. Roderique: Yes, Joe and Judy, making Jody.

Erin: Yes. They chose Hadiya, which means, the gift. It’s beautiful. Do you think that Jody would have gotten more callbacks than Hadiya did, looking at that data?

Dr. Roderique: Yes, I do think so. When I applied for my last round of jobs, I did not use Hadiya, I used HJ Roderique. I did that for a reason. Because I knew it would be more likely to get my foot in the door, to get my resume at least to the interview stage. They’re going to know I’m Black the minute I show up, but at least I want to get there and have the chance to prove my worth in person.

Erin: That’s stunning to me, because you laid this bare in this essay, and yet you’re still in this position where you’re hiding who you are until you can reveal, the gift, when you walk through the door.

Dr. Roderique: Yes.

Erin: Astounding. We’re going to hear a few stories a little later in this podcast from the people themselves. CREA members who are Black have shared stories about being followed around a house showing by a White seller, not having their offers accepted almost certainly, just because they’re Black. Can you talk about the opportunity gap faced by Black professionals?

Dr. Roderique: Yes, I’d say it generally stems from a failure to receive the resources and exposure that professionals need to be successful. Generally, not getting the same chances and not same opportunities, not getting the same benefit of the doubt as others get. That means you have to work so much harder to achieve the same level of success. Some researchers call this the prove it again bias. It’s where groups that are stereotyped as less competent, so women, people of colour, et cetera, may have to prove themselves over and over and over before they’re given the same opportunity that someone is just given from the jump. Thinking about, oh, he’ll crush it, versus, she’s not ready, I need to see her do X, Y, and Z first, whereas not having that same requirement or expectation of the other individual.

I heard Trevor Noah say this quite well. He was talking specifically about anti-Black racism. He said, “Black people are not asking you, asking companies to hire them because they are Black, they are asking you to stop not hiring them because they are Black.” I think that’s one of the crucial differences that people don’t seem to get. They think that Black people are asking for special opportunities. No, we’re just asking for the same opportunities that you already enjoy.

Erin: Is it doubled when you’re a woman?

Dr. Roderique: Yes. The intersectionality of race and gender or anything else, disability, et cetera, will definitely play a role. There’s research that shows that Black men and White women may have more similar experiences than Black men and Black women. Certainly, the maleness insulates Black men from some effects or gives them access to certain spaces that Black women wouldn’t have the same access to.

Erin: Conformity and belonging are at the root of your experience as a Black woman working in law, did the pressure to conform to a White male workplace culture negatively affect you professionally or personally?

Dr. Roderique: I certainly understood that I had to conform socially. I knew not to talk about the fact that my dad was a cab driver, but instead to talk about the fact that he had an engineering degree. I knew to talk about, Glenfiddich and my travel to Japan, or wherever I had gone and not, roti and park barbecues. There’s this expectation of conformity to this upper-middle-class standard. I think in the past a lot of companies wanted basically people of colour who were like White people, who came from the upper-middle class, spoke that language.

I was lucky that despite growing up in a lower SES category that I had a university-educated father, stressed the importance of being well-rounded. I had arts and music in my life, despite the fact that my dad didn’t buy a new coat for six years, but he made sure that he could pay for those lessons for us. I did dance lessons, I did gymnastics, I had movement classes when I was four, I had art classes when I was four. I grew up knowing how to speak the language. I think that made it easier for me to enter these spaces.

I did know that no matter what I would physically stand out, so I actually didn’t tone down my dress or my hair, I wore an afro for my interviews. I often wore an afro to work, I changed my hairstyle a lot. I rarely wore a suit because I hated suit jackets, I wore a lot of dresses, and I wore bright colours. I just figured I was already going to stand out in the room so I might as well dress the way I wanted to. That’s something I think I’ve carried forward, even more, I think now I have the benefit of hindsight and more years of experience and I’m going to be my best when I can be myself and being myself means usually big hair and big earrings and bright colours.

Erin: Phenomenal woman. It reminds me of the piece by Maya Angelou.

Dr. Roderique: I’m going to be phenomenally me.

Erin: Absolutely. You’ve also written about the burden of being first at work, the first Black woman to potentially be made partner, for example. This is something that we as a society celebrate, oh, look at this, she’s the first this this, this and this, as we did with the inauguration last month of Vice President Kamala Harris, but you say that it can be very isolating. Why is that?

Dr. Roderique: Well, I think, first of all, it’s great to celebrate the first, it’s great to celebrate someone who has done something that no one else has done. As soon as that celebration is over, we have to think about, how do we make sure that they stay and how do we make sure they’re not the only one? It can be isolating because there’s no one to look up to. There’s no one else that’s blazed that path, there’s no role model, there’s no one to go to bounce your experiences off of.

Often, you’re the most senior person that looks like you at the organization, you’re the one that’s expected to advise downwards, and there’s no one for you to go to often in your own workplace. You might be able to find those mentor or sponsorship opportunities elsewhere but there’s no one in your workplace who really gets what you’re going through. I think that can be pretty hard, and pretty isolating.

I know, I was choosing between two organizations recently. One didn’t have any Black people in their Canadian office, and the other did. The other put me in touch with other Black professionals, put me in touch with a senior leader in the organization who was Black. That was really meaningful to me. It was a huge part of my decision to choose that workplace over the other. It’s so much easier when you can join and look up and see someone who looks like you and know that someone who looks like you can do this.

Erin: Is it exhausting to even contemplate being the first Black woman in that first firm that you decided not to go with? It’s like, “Oh, do I have to kick this door open too?”

Dr. Roderique: I just knew it would be harder, it would be harder without that immediate support group. Having support, I think, is really crucially important. If I’m given the choice between two very excellent workplaces, but one has a more robust Black support network or a larger Black population, all things being equal, that’s where I’m going to go.

Erin: Oh, the place that she’s gone and is going, facing the phenomenon of the glass cliff, owning our unconscious bias and more with Dr. Roderique in a moment. 

Celebrate one year of REAL TIME by revisiting some of our most popular podcast episodes from season one, including our in-depth review of COVID-19’s effect on Canadians, REALTOR® and the industry. Subscribe on Spotify, Apple, and Stitcher, or visit crea.ca/podcast for more details. 

Now, back to Dr. Roderique, speaker, writer, consultant, EDI Researcher, and our REAL TIME guest today.

You reference something called the glass cliff. Can you explain that to us, please?

Dr. Roderique: Yes, so the glass cliff is a phenomenon where you might have a company that’s struggling or is in a more risky position and that’s when the company will give a woman or a person of colour the leadership opportunity. I think about like Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, for example. They’re in this sink or swim environment, they’re given a very challenging situation and if they don’t succeed the company will be like, “Well, look, we tried, we tried a woman, we tried a person colour and it didn’t work.” Then so they can pivot back to hiring White men for that CEO position.

Sometimes it’s a position where you can’t convince a White man to come in and take it because it’s tenuous, or it’s going to be very difficult. That’s when you give the opportunity to the woman or to the person of colour, and they’re already dealing with a more challenging situation than anybody else would be dealing with. That’s the phenomenon of the glass cliff.

Erin: I keep thinking about the saying that I always went through my mind in a career in a male-dominated field. Of course, I don’t have the perspective or the experiences that you do, Dr. Roderique, but it is the old saying that Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astaire did only backwards and in high heels. You’ve just added the element, yes and by the way to make sure that the dance floor is spinning at the same time.

Dr. Roderique: Only spending for Ginger and not spinning for-

Erin: Not spinning for Fred.

Dr. Roderique: Fred, yes.

Erin: That’s right. Dr. Roderique, how does unconscious bias affect our actions and decision making, for example, as a hiring manager or colleague? We’ve talked about the names and Jamal versus Greg, and which resumes get looked at, and which ones are considered, how does that unconscious bias affect our actions and decision making?

Dr. Roderique: What I want those populations to think about is changing processes that people can’t be biased within them. I don’t think three one-hour sessions of unconscious bias training is going to do much to solve our problems about racism. What you want to do is have a system so that someone cannot enact their racist ideals or thoughts within that system. Things like work allocation, what’s your work allocation process? How do managers give out work? Because often the kind and caliber of projects that you do are what sets you up for success and sets you up for ascension and promotion. If certain people are getting all of the good files, or in the past, as they were called the blue files and the pink files, the men got the blue files, the women got the administrative pink files, what are your Brown files and your White files? Thinking about that and thinking about ways you can change your processes to interrupt bias.

With resumes, making sure that you set out the screening criteria before people review resumes, and don’t just leave it up to their whim and their presumed good judgment. What qualities are you actually looking for? What are the metrics of these qualities? What are the different ways in which these qualities can show up? Do you have a rubric? Do you have a metric, something that people can actually use so they don’t lapse into biased patterns of thinking?

Same thing with work allocation, do you have a formal work allocation process? I remember speaking to one lawyer when he was saying, “I gave someone a piece of work, and I want to go back and give that person more work. They did a good job, why do I have to spread the wealth in a sense?” I said, “Well, first of all, what if that person leaves tomorrow, and you’ve only trained him and you haven’t given that same consideration to other people? That’s going to leave you in the lurch. You’re thinking short term, instead of thinking long term.” Then I asked him, “What made you go to him in the first place?” He couldn’t answer the question. Or maybe he didn’t want to answer the question.

But it’s, who do you think of first? Why are you thinking of them first? Why do you go to that person? It’s usually because there’s some similarity or something drawing you towards that person. Oh, they’re kind of like me, I was good, therefore they’ll be good and not discounting someone else’s potential or experience. Just making sure that you’re giving everybody the same opportunity to succeed, and different people will run with that opportunity in different ways, but if people are starting out from different starting points and not getting the same chances, of course you’re going to have different results at the end.

Erin: What advice would you give to Black, Indigenous, and people of colour who may be struggling professionally, or just feeling worn down by the bias and racism that they face?

Dr. Roderique: Have a support network. I have a Black woman’s book club where we read work by Black authors, and most of the time we don’t talk about the book. We just talk about work and we gripe about work. We talk about our experiences, our lived experiences as Black women in the world. I always leave those feeling heard and refreshed, and really grateful for that group of women.

Document everything, cover your butt. If someone gives you instructions, verbally, get back to your office write a confirmatory email saying, as I understand it you want me to do A, B, C, and D, but not E, so that later when E doesn’t get done and they actually wanted E to get done they can’t throw you under the bus. Documenting everything, just knowing that people will have it out for you more than they will have it out for others, and so you have to cover yourself, make sure that you’ve dotted your Is and cross your Ts.

Take notes. If you have a negative experience, go back to your office, send an email to yourself. You have a date-stamped receipt of your immediate recollections of what happened, because then, if 5, 6, 7 more incidents happen, and if there’s a harassment case or there’s an investigation when they’re asking about what happened you’re like, well, here are my immediate notes from the situation versus this person’s sketchy recall six months later. Just making sure that you’re protecting yourself in case something goes wrong. Hopefully you would never have to use any of those things but I’m a realist and so for me, those are the kinds of records that I would keep.

Erin: Have you had to use them?

Dr. Roderique: I actually have been working for myself for the past little while, so haven’t had to keep any records because it’s just me. I’m not going to tell on myself. Going forward that’s something that I would take with me.

Erin: I do love the idea of your quasi-book club because 25 years ago I wanted to start up a group called Broads in Broadcasting, something like that, just because I did feel so alone. As soon as you start talking with somebody, you know that they’ve got the same problems that you do, and it can only help to discuss, okay, well then what did you do?

Because there are so many restrictions and parameters and stuff that if you can just find a way that someone else saw that perhaps that you don’t, it can be invaluable. Sometimes just having that safe place to be vulnerable, to not have to be standing up and be the only and get worried about getting shoved off the glass cliff and all of that. It must be a tremendous sense or it is a tremendous sense of relief.

Dr. Roderique: Yes, I think too it can be really hard to express weakness or to express that you’re having trouble or challenges in the workplace because you’re worried that that will be held against you because sometimes it feels like they’re just waiting for you to mess up and expecting you to mess up and you don’t want them to be right. Having a place where you can go and be honest and talk through the challenges you’re experiencing, I think, is really important.

Erin: Coming up, we’re going to hear from three of your fellow REALTORS® about their experiences with racism, and Dr. Roderique has her three kinds of racism. That’s on the way. There is a place to discuss what you’re going through, tap into the knowledge and experiences of REALTORS® across Canada sharing your own lessons and insights by visiting REALTORS’ Quarter on CREA Cafe, a hub of content created by REALTORS® for REALTORS®. Back to Dr. Hadiya Roderique, who tells us that there are three kinds of racism.

Dr. Roderique: You can be actively racist, bad, passively racist, also bad, or you can be actively anti-racist, good. You cannot be passively anti-racist because the current system is biased and racist and so to do nothing, to be passive is to allow that current to continue. You have to be pushing back against that current to be anti-racist. I know there are some educators who put the four categories on the board and everything that people try and put in the passive anti-racist box, they’re like, no, that actually belongs there, that belongs there. There’s really nothing that fits in the passive anti-racism box.

You have to be taking action, you have to be doing something. It doesn’t have to be huge. Maybe, you notice that the curriculum of your kid’s eighth grade English class has no authors of colour on it. You’re a White mother, you’re a White father, you write to the teacher, you write to the school board asking for there to be more representation. As a White person who’s seen as not having anything invested in that you will be taken more seriously than if I write it and make that same request.

What are the small things you can do? Have you noticed that the parent groups seem to be excluding certain parents? Or some people are not getting invited to playdates? Have you noticed that your colleague isn’t getting the same opportunities that you are or when they try and talk in a meeting they’re being talked over? You can be like, “Hey, I think Anna was trying to say that.” Or if you notice that someone has sort of stolen someone else’s idea and getting credit for it and be like, “Oh, that sounds a lot like what Kamala was saying.

Do you want to repeat that? Let us know your thoughts again, maybe people didn’t hear,” and so calling attention, using your privilege for good. It can be a force for good, you just have to wield it in the right way.

Erin: My mind is blowing up right now with ideas because of what women have gotten to now in this position 20 to 30 years later. Okay, we’ve had that struggle, we’re up that ladder. Now reach down and pull somebody else up, because it’s not over for everybody.

Dr. Roderique: Yes, so much of the advances we’ve had for women in the workplace have really been advances on the part of White women, intersectionality piece has been lacking. We need to make sure when we’re talking about feminism, that our feminism includes all women and not just upper middle class White women. Think about, does your feminism include women who don’t look like you, women who inhabit a different socio-economic class than you?

Erin: Good question. Dr. Roderique, what steps can White allies take to genuinely support their Black and racialized colleagues, clients, and friends?

Dr. Roderique: I think one thing is to do your own research work in education. You don’t need to go up to your Black friend and ask them to explain microaggressions to you, you have fingertips and probably four different devices that connect to the internet, you can Google. You can Google basic terms, you can read books to get more familiar with the language, so making sure that you are up to date on your vernacular.

Then the second thing is to recognize how much power there is in your silence and in your action. The power in your silence is negative. When you see something happening and you say nothing, it comes across as tacit endorsement of what is happening. If someone says to me, do the carpet match the drapes, which is an actual thing that someone has said to me in the workplace, and you say nothing, you are approving that behaviour.

You are saying, yes, that is an acceptable thing that should be said and that is an acceptable thing that can be said to you.

I remember, I had one experience with a lawyer where the client pointed at me and said, “Where they’re mostly black,” and just stood there pointing at me and it was super awkward. People do dumb things all the time, but the thing that was actually the most hurtful was that she never said anything about it, that she pretended like it didn’t happen. It made me learn what my value was to her. It can be most hurtful when it’s the people you respect, when it’s your friends who stand by and say nothing.

I know a lot of people worry about saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing but I promise you that doing anything is literally better than doing nothing. Even if you mess it up a bit you’ll learn, you’ll grow, the person will know that you supported them. Even though it was imperfect, that you recognize that what was happening was not okay, and you took action against it.

It shouldn’t always be on the person who’s insulted to have to be the one that stands up because if I do I’m seen as the angry Black woman or being too sensitive, or it’s going to affect my career and my prospect and I want to see White people putting themselves on the line, sticking their neck out and telling that person, yo, that’s not okay. Knowing that that person might be upset at them for calling them out on the thing they shouldn’t be doing but that’s okay, and that you’re more afraid of your Black colleague or friend being harmed and hurt than you are of saying the wrong thing or not saying it perfectly, because that’s what you should really fear. You should fear the racism, not standing up to the racism.

Erin: Does it behoove the people who have more power to have louder voices in this because I know if I was lower in the company, and I heard someone say something to you, I’d look around the room and go, okay, before I stand up for my friend, Hadiya, is this going to be a career limiting move for me?

Dr. Roderique: If you think that’s going to be a career limiting move for you I think you’re in the wrong organization. You want to be in an organization where there are consequences for bad behaviour and good consequences for good behaviour. If you feel like speaking up against injustice is going to get you in trouble at work, do you really want to work there? I know I would not want to work there. I would not want to grace that place with my presence.

You have to be part of changing the culture. If you want that kind of speech or actions to be unacceptable, you have to be one of the people saying it’s unacceptable. It’s not my ancestors who dehumanized Black people, it’s not my ancestors who kept them enslaved, and so it’s not supposed to be my job to undo racism. I didn’t make racism. My people didn’t make racism, all we did was exist and try and survive and try to live. It’s the people who are part of the system, who perpetuate the system, who continue the system, it’s their job to undo that. Yes it’s hard and yes it’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s going to help us all.

You think about rising tide lifts all ships, so why are we satisfied with a world where mediocre men get positions and power above other people that deserve it more? We have accepted mediocrity for a very long time, and I think it’s time for us to stop accepting mediocrity for us to give people opportunity, and to let people actually be the best that they can be. Therefore, then give positions and give those rewards to the people who truly deserve it.

All people of colour want is an actual meritocracy, but for you to believe that what we have now is a meritocracy, that would mean that you believe, for example, that intelligence is unequally distributed by race and by gender. I went to law school I can tell you that that is not true. Women get into university more than men. Right now, for them to keep university classes more gender balanced because they’re not, I think right now it’s about 57% women and 43% men in university because women actually do better in school.

They are more likely to be on the Dean’s list and so for you to go from that, to having 10% women partners, and for you to think that that’s okay and that actually represents the best of talent, that you think that somehow men get this magical injection of legal talent right after they graduate from law school that they just didn’t hold before. They didn’t have it in university. They didn’t have it in high school, but somehow it just magically appears. Do I have a timeshare in Florida to tell you about?

Erin: Tell us how professionals like real estate brokers and REALTORS® can encourage a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture in a real way Dr. Roderique?

Dr. Roderique: You can demand actions that don’t seem like they benefit you. If you’re a White broker pushing for a BIPOC, so a Black, Indigenous, People of Colour internship program, you’re not seen as having skin in the game or looking out for your own, you’re just saying, this is a thing that will benefit us all and I as a White person support this. I think also not tolerating intolerance and having actual consequences for negative behaviour.

The person who’s harmed should after be the one that’s supported, be the one that’s given opportunities, not the person that has harmed. But so often we see people who do bad things still getting rewards and still failing upwards. It’s how we got Harvey Weinstein. It’s how you get all of the men who, comes out, that they’ve repeatedly harassed women in the workplace, and yet have still been allowed to move up and move up and gain more and more power. Why is the consequence of bad behaviour rewards?

Erin: Because whistleblowers are not seen as team players, right?

Dr. Roderique: Yes, which you think about the police as well. They say it’s one bad apple but usually it’s actually more a lot of bad apples and one good apple, and then the gang up on the good apple, and then the good apple has to leave the force and is harassed by the police for the rest of their life. Making sure that if you have bad apples, you actually get rid of them. Or you put pressure on them to change into good apples, and not tolerate the bad apples.

What that is actually saying is that you do not believe in your HR department’s ability to get someone who can do the job without being a jerk. I’d like to think you trust your HR and hiring committees much more than that, and know that you don’t have to keep someone who is toxic around. Often we keep these person because maybe they sell 10% more than the other person, but we are forgetting about the negative impact that they have on everybody else around them. If they’re making everybody else around them sell 5% less, they’re a net negative on the organization and so, why are we keeping them? I think actual consequences for behaviour, not tolerating intolerance, and then making sure when you see something you say something and you do something.

Erin: Listening to the people who have left, why did they leave?

Dr. Roderique: Yes, exit interviews, very important.

Erin: You’ve also talked about giving equal opportunities to succeed and often they only get a break when they’ve repeatedly proved themselves, as well as revamping the hiring processes.

Dr. Roderique: Not just hiring. I think a lot of people think that if they hire a diverse slate then they can wipe their hands and have done their job, but if you hire people only for them to all leave six months after because the workplace culture is toxic, that’s not really doing much good. You can’t hire people into a place that is harmful or unsafe for them. So, making sure not only that you’re working on hiring, but you’re working on retention.

Erin: As we wrap up our conversation with Dr. Hadiya Roderique next, on our way to hearing from CREA members who faced racism themselves, here’s a reminder, REALTORS® Care is a national guiding principles celebrating the great charitable work done by the Canadian REALTOR® community. Help raise awareness for the charities and causes closest to you by sharing your story using #REALTORSCare on your favourite social media platform.

In the three to four years since you wrote Black on Bay Street and it was published in the Globe and Mail, have you observed any significant movement on the issue of bias and racism in the workplace since then, any signs of hope that we’re headed in the right direction?

Dr. Roderique: Yes, I think some people have made some changes to their hiring processes. I know some firms have implemented some unique programs that give young BIPOC individuals opportunities to work the firm when they’re more junior in their tenure. I think that there’s the Black North Initiatives where now a lot of people are signing on to that and there’s targets associated with that. I think we’re seeing some changes. I think some people who are doing good work just aren’t blasting out on social media or using it for publicity or credit. They’re just doing good work behind the scenes. I think sometimes there’s an unwillingness to share best practices or put it out there, but I think we have to recognize that we’re all in this together, and we want everybody to be using these good practices. We don’t want anybody to be treated badly, even if they’re not at our organization.

I think there’s more of a culture of sharing and collaboration on EDI initiatives, which I am encouraged by, but what I don’t want to see is just performative action on Twitter or social media posts and then no action.

I know that there was something- there was a blow-up with Glossier, which is a makeup company, and there was a statement posted, but there hasn’t been any clarity on follow-up for whatnot, making sure that if you’re putting commitments out there, that you’re following up on those commitments and publicizing your action as well as your commitment to action. I think I want to see, and hopefully, we are seeing, some senior leadership EDI positions that have real teeth and have the ability to really implement change in an organization.

Erin: Black Lives Matter was huge in 2020. It really, truly came to the fore, and, of course, in Canada, many, many people were made aware of this movement that wasn’t just something fringe or only something that happened in the United States. What is your hope for the future and what is your take on the state of equality for Black people in Canada now?

Dr. Roderique: We still have a ways to go. I think we like to think we’re very different from the US, but the way that we treat Black people, the way that we treat indigenous people is very similar. We had slavery in Canada. There’s a lot of people who don’t know that. We had slaves in Canada. It’s just that our temperature wasn’t as warm. There weren’t as many people out in fields, but we had slaves doing things in Canada.

Robyn Maynard’s, Policing Black Lives is a really good book that canvasses the Black experience, especially, the Black experience in relation to the state. My hope for the future is that kids will look at us with puzzled faces when we say that this used to be a thing that people cared about, and they’d be like, “What? You cared what colour people were? You cared what gender people were? What? Why?” I just want the future generations to look back with incredulity that we differentiated people based on these characteristics that really don’t matter.

Erin: The work you’re doing, opening eyes and hearts, to the message that you’ve got, it has been incredible. We can only hope that you’ll continue to use your platform, use your voice, to make people aware of what we’re doing, whether consciously or unconsciously. Let’s look in a crystal ball to the rest of 2021 and get us to the end of it, if you will, Dr. Roderique.

Dr. Roderique: Please, please, fast forward.

Erin: How would you like to be able to describe this year when we’re all done?

Dr. Roderique: I’d like it to be pandemic-free. I’d like there to be fewer Black people being harmed and killed by the state. I’d like to see more accountability for people’s actions. I’d like to see us recognize the people who do the real work that sustains us, it is the cashier at the grocery store, it is the warehouse stalker. It is the front-line worker, and really rethink what we want our community and our province and our country and our city to look like.

Do we want it to look like a place that leaves certain people behind, or do we want it to look like something that supports and tries to get the best for everyone and from everyone? I hope that over this next year, we’ve really, truly, and deeply started to confront our history. I think we need to acknowledge the harms we’ve done in the past for us to move forward.

I think we need to acknowledge the harms that have been committed against indigenous people in this country, committed against Black people in this country, and other groups, and understand why, understand what we’re going to do about it and how we’re going to change that and move forward. I think there’s still so many people who deny that racism even exists or deny the genocide of indigenous people.

It’s going to be really hard, I think, for some of us to move forward if we still have these ideas out there, gripping and lingering. I feel like sometimes when I talk about this work, it sounds depressing. Sometimes I will quit when I’m giving a talk, “Now, that I have depressed you all, here’s the optimism.” I like to think that we can only get better from here. Let’s operate on the model or the idea that we’re going to get better, every day is going to be a little better.

I’m not expecting to solve racism tomorrow. I’m not even expecting to solve racism in my lifetime. It was hundreds of years in the making. It’s going to be a long time in the undoing, but the time for talking about it and platitudes is over. I think that people just aren’t going to get away with denying racism, or pretending it doesn’t exist, or saying that they had no idea.

If after this summer, you have no idea about racism, were you living under a rock? Were you living up North with no internet and no communication with any other humans? Then maybe I might be able to buy it, but if you have been able to look at what’s happening and still want to deny that the experience here is different for other people, then I don’t really know what to do, but hopefully, those kinds of attitudes are just not going to fly anymore.

The newer generation, the younger generation is watching, and they are not going to be satisfied with people saying something and doing nothing. They will call you out on it. They will make a bunch of TikToks about you. You had a bunch of 15-year-olds trolling the president of the United States, buying up tickets to his various rallies and leaving them empty. The young people, especially if you’re someone who has an organization, the young people are very conscious of this issue and they’re going to be looking at what you’re doing. Are you walking the walk, in addition to talking the talk?

They don’t have the same company loyalty that used to exist 30, 40, 50 years ago. If they come to your organization and you’re not doing enough for them, they’re going to leave. They’re going to have their own startup, or they’re going to go somewhere else that’s more progressive. It’s really a war for talent. For me, if you’re lagging behind on EDI, that’s going to really hurt you for the rest of your time, really. This is also about your own survival. If, as an organization, you’d like to stick around, you’re going to have to do better in this area.

Erin: We can’t thank you enough for the time you’ve spent with us today. It’s been enlightening in so many ways, and it’s just wonderful that an essay you wrote in 2017 continues to have a life of its own. We’ll keep sending people to that Globe and Mail, Black on Bay Street, 2017, Dr. Hadiya Roderique has been our guest here today. Thank you so much.

Dr. Roderique: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.


Erin: Okay. As we continue with the discussion of working while Black with Dr. Roderique, let’s turn our attention now on REAL TIME to the real estate context. We spoke with three Black REALTORS® who shared their experiences and insights on bias and racism. Here’s what Bethany King, a Broker REALTOR® from Brampton, Ontario, had to say about witnessing discrimination in her work environment.

Bethany King: We see racism or racial bias primarily in our rental markets, when certain ethnicities are denied offers to lease without any reason or explanation. If you have ever represented a minority tenant in at least transaction, then it’s apparent of the racism prevalent within our communities. Furthermore, certain races are often asked to provide additional supporting documentation to prove their worthiness when, in fact, they’ve already met all of the tenant requirements.

Now, this is primarily driven through stereotypes, and you and I both know that research and analysis shows that the Black to White gap in income is substantial, coupled with racial bias and law enforcement schooling and the jobs sector. Therefore, Black people are not seen as desirable tenants. They’re not seen as trustworthy or financially secure. The worst part about this is that our Black children are being raised in a system that is not welcoming to them, nor supports them.

Erin: Thank you, Bethany King, for sharing your insight. We’ll hear from her again in a moment. Beyond bias against clients, Chris Peters, who many of you know as the President of the Nova Scotia Association of REALTORS®s, shared for the first time publicly, a personal story of when he was directly targeted with racism.

Chris Peters: I’ve been blessed and fortunate that I haven’t faced a lot. I’m in a small community, Eastern Passage, one of the suburbs of Halifax, and I’ve always been very active in the community, so my face has been out in the community way before I ever started real estate, so people were always aware of my loud, outspoken character.

I think that probably softened the blow for me in this community. I haven’t shared this story with- actually, you might be the first one I have shared this story with, Erin. A few of my signs have racial slurs, both the swastika and KKK, written on them. I was fortunate that I had a couple of friends of mine in the community point them out to me, they were quickly removed and they were replaced.

In most cases, you’re never going to find out who did it or why it was done. Sometimes it’s people who are just ignorant and don’t even know the significance and meaning of those symbols and those letters. Sorry, it’s emotional talking about it.

Erin: I appreciate you sharing it. You don’t want to think that it could be something as nefarious as Proud Boys, you want to think it’s stupid boys, young boys.

Chris: Yes, it’s true, it’s true, but that stuff happens. I’ve had that stuff happen when I was a young kid in high school, I think that’s what one of the original conversations I had with CREA last summer, was about some of that stuff happening, and that would have been me living up in Sudbury.

Here I’m an adult in my 40s, in real estate, and it’s still happening. It took me by surprise, but at the same time, it also didn’t surprise me that much, knowing the demographics, knowing the history of this province, knowing the racial tensions that still exist to this day in this province. In some respects, it didn’t surprise me.

For me, it was a matter of taking those signs down, replacing them with new ones, and just going on, whether or not that was the right or wrong thing to do, I didn’t even mention it to my wife. It was just something I did, got the signs down, replaced them. Fortunately, the ones that I replaced them with never got vandalized. I never really thought much about it after that. It never happened to me again, that was probably about seven or eight years ago.

Erin: It’s obvious that bias and racism are still very much present in real estate, like so many other industries and systems in Canada. Jasmine Lee, a Broker RELATOR® in Toronto offers us some ideas on how we can work together to make real estate more inclusive and equitable for Black and racialized Canadians.

Jasmine Lee: I’m all about solution focus, so even for me spending my time and energy to do things like this, I’ve been talking about this, I’ve been approached by newspapers and by our boards about interviews and I spend my time and energy away from my business and my family to help with the solution.

There’s a lot of groups starting now, Black REALTORS® in Toronto, Black REALTORS®, even the brokers, I’m a part of, they have a Black REALTOR® association and its international, so there is a need, but we need support from our bodies here in Toronto, I would say. There’s groups that are already formed. We need support from our bodies here, Toronto real estate board, RECO, CREA, or they need to form something from the bodies that support REALTORS® of colour to, what are the opportunities?

A lot of them are first-generation in the business, what are things that they can do to help their peers? What are things that we can do to get more access into the builder connection? Things that we can help our community, things that we can help other REALTORS® that are coming into the business, so I think we need some more support from the bodies, for sure.

I would say for the bodies that govern our real estate business, they need to look at their online presence, they need to look, does it reflect our industry? Does it reflect an inclusive environment that they want to cultivate and create? Take a look at that. One of the things I talked about on my social media on Instagram, and you can find me there @thejasmineleeteam, is that I find that all the brokers that I’m with, all the bodies, they’d celebrate donut day, dog owner day, they wouldn’t celebrate Black history month ever, until I moved to this brokerage, eXp, I didn’t even know that they do, but at Black history month, they made a post and they celebrate it, and that was such a big thing for me.

It was such a small thing from what they thought they did, but it was huge, and once I shared that on social media, so many REALTORS® were like, “Wow, that is amazing,” because the brokerage I’m at never acknowledged even Black history month, and they celebrate Halloween, Leprechaun Day, so many different things, but they don’t acknowledge that, so that was a huge thing for myself and a lot of other REALTORS®.

Erin: As for Chris Peters of Nova Scotia, he’s working to reverse an almost 80-year history of under-representation among leadership in organized real estate.

Chris: In the summer, I put forward a motion, one of the great things about being president is, I can request to create a task force. I had unanimous support from our board of directors to create a task force on diversity and inclusion for NSAR to look at some of the issues and causes with regards to a lack of diversity and inclusion in not necessarily our membership, but in our committees and our board.

I think, when I look over our membership, we have pretty good representation, but it doesn’t appear that we have that at all when it comes to our committees and boards. It’s our committees and boards that govern where we’re going to go as an association. For me, it was important that we start to incorporate that as part of our philosophy, in order to do that, I thought that creating this task force, which we met for the first time in September, and we’ve met a few times since, is going to be our first step in recognizing what actions we as an association need to do to ensure that we are building and developing and fostering a community of inclusion, a sense of belonging for our members.

When you look at Canada as a whole, and Nova Scotia, some of our most socially and economically challenged neighborhoods tend to be racialized. If we’re not doing things to support those groups and a lot of those groups, because they’ve had such a negative history with people of non-colour with what you would say is your white person, you’ve got to be able to have people that they can associate to and relate to, by being able to see themselves for them to be able to hopefully respond in a positive way.

Erin: Bethany King, from Brampton, compiled for us key points of focus that she believes will help the real estate industry shift to being more inclusive and equitable.

Bethany: The five points that I always bring it back to is, number one, an acknowledgment that there’s an issue that Black people, Black children have always been treated as inferior and the presence of Black youth remains unwelcomed and undesirable, acknowledging that there is an issue as the first step in opening the conversations.

Number two, we request that ARIA, RECO, TREB, create a post or position of director of race relations, and this position should be occupied by a member of the Black community with an immediate mandate to create a task force. I do believe that ARIA is already working on something like this.

The third one is that we requested our boards start to begin to collect race-based data from both their members and their member clients. This vital information could help pinpoint some problems and address issues. We also request that the same boards analyze the effect of gentrification and racialized communities and have a mandate to protect said communities from unfair property tax hikes and predatory land assembly.

Finally, most importantly, and I believe CREA is already making steps towards this is immediately creating and implementing mandatory race, focus, education programs to help REALTORS® identify and navigate racial discrimination by clients and fellow REALTORS®, there’s far too many instances of a Black person or another person of colour being denied rent or financing options based solely off the colour of their skin. REALTORS® have a role to play in this discriminatory practice, and members should be educated and reminded of how to properly conduct their business in the community when it comes to these situations.

Erin: Lastly, we asked our real-time guests what advice they would give to Black and other racialized or underrepresented Canadians who might be interested in a career in real estate, and here’s what Jasmine had to say.

Jasmine: You are going to work harder as a minority, and you will definitely work harder as a minority and a female, it will be the best career and it’ll be so worth it as long as you align yourself and create your tribe in real estate, in terms of people that look like you, that have the same values, characteristics as you, and just build on that together.

Erin: Finally, we wrap up this edition of REAL TIME with passionate words from Bethany King.

Bethany: I would say to other members who are Black or from minority descent, and I try to be a little bit compelling here, but that I would tell them that you can break those generational curses that were imparted on them in the first place. One of the things that I love about being a REALTOR® is being able to choose the kind of people that I have to work with, minorities are not only discriminated against in real estate, but even in the corporate world as well. They’re hindered with prejudice and they often have to take a lower wage in some cases, and you don’t have to do that. You can take control of your career. You can live a very comfortable life. I’m Black, I’m a woman, I’m a single mom, and I’ve quite literally doubled down on the adversity. I’m changing the stereotype for my daughter and her future. I think that I love being a salesperson. I love working in real estate, and pressure creates diamonds. I would welcome more people of colour, more minority immigrants to pursue a career in real estate, because it’s been really great for me.

Erin: Thank you, Bethany, Chris Peters, and Jasmine Lee for sharing your insights and your experiences so that we may all see things a little more clearly as we celebrate Black History Month and move towards a future of compassion, empathy, and justice. If you’re interested, you can google Black on Bay Street in the Globe and Mail, no paywall, and read Dr. Roderique’s piece from last September on being a Black mother in a world that’s dangerous for Black children. It’s amazing. So is she, and we’re so glad to have shared her wisdom here today.

Just before we go, here’s another reason you’re going to want to subscribe to this podcast. Up next time, an uplifting and joyful conversation with Tiffany Pratt post of HGTV’s Home to Win, and Buy It, Fix It, Sell It, to name just a few of her projects. She’s dynamic. She’s got so much on the go and a lot of joy to share, and she’ll do it right here. You won’t want to miss it. 

REAL TIME is produced by Real Family Productions and Alphabet® Creative. I’m Erin Davis. Talk to you again soon and don’t forget to subscribe.