It is vital that career professionals understand how systemic racism affects the career and educational pathways of their clients to help them succeed

Jodi Tingling

author headshotSystemic racism in Canada has affected individuals who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), and for many has had a negative impact on their career pathways. As a career practitioner it is important to understand how systemic racism affects the clients you see and to assess how you can help dismantle a system that can be oppressive to ensure everyone has an opportunity to succeed in their careers.

Addressing inequity and its impacts

Equity means being fair and impartial; this includes having opportunities for all – not only a certain group. Understanding the challenges that BIPOC face is an important aspect of addressing their true career journey and its impacts. From challenges in the educational system to biased recruitment practices, to microaggressions in the workplace, to being screened out of senior leadership positions – these issues can negatively impact BIPOC’s career journeys.

As a career professional, be aware that BIPOC clients may have experienced racial trauma, which can affect their career and many other aspects of their life. Racial trauma results in the psychological and physical distress of individuals and can be attributed to varying experiences because of one’s race (Comas-Díaz, Hall, & Neville, 2019).

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Addressing inequity and its impacts requires a commitment to understanding the system in which BIPOC navigate their careers. It is important to be aware that standards of professionalism are ingrained in white supremacy culture and serve to oppress those who are BIPOC. According to two grassroots organizers and scholars, Tema Okun and Keith Jones (n.d.), white supremacy shows up in many organizations and has characteristics that are embraced in the workplace. This includes expectations of white-coded behaviours and attitudes ranging from perfectionism, to standards of hair, clothing and communication patterns, to overall expectations like adhering to organizations’ “culture fit.” These expectations amplify toxic workplace environments and serve to hurt BIPOC’s careers.

“As a career professional, be aware that BIPOC clients may have experienced racial trauma, which can affect their career and many other aspects of their life.”

Your strategy to empower BIPOC’s career trajectory needs to begin with commitment to becoming an ally to support and dismantle a system that serves as a disadvantage to the BIPOC community. This requires challenging the system and providing a space for BIPOC to thrive in their careers.

Education and career pathways

Barriers to career pathways can start in the education system, where educators’ racial biases can alter the educational trajectories of racialized students. Only recently, the Government of Ontario announced that it would end the controversial practice of streaming students into applied and academic tracks, a practice that has widely been known to discriminate against racialized students. A 2017 report from York University, Towards Race Equity in Education (2017), concluded 53% of Black students were in the academic program of study, compared to 81% of white and 80% of other racialized students. These discriminatory practices in the education system ultimately limit career trajectories and can alter and create a negative perception of school and career navigation for BIPOC.

Employment earnings and job security

BIPOC are affected negatively in their careers when it comes to unemployment, earnings and opportunities. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), racialized workers were more likely to be unemployed in 2016 at a rate of 9.2%, compared to non-racialized workers at 7.3% ((Block, Galabuzi, & Tranjan, 2019).  Additionally, the earnings gap has remained relatively unchanged since 2006. For every dollar that non-racialized men earn, racialized women earn 59 cents and racialized men earn 78 cents. In the By the numbers: Race, gender and the Canadian labour market report, the CCPA also concluded there has been little progress to close the racial gap in unemployment. One of the report’s key learnings is that labour market discrimination against racialized workers continues to be an issue both in the wage gap and in unemployment rates.

Similarly, the Conference Board of Canada (2017) concludes there are discriminatory practices that contribute to the employment and wage gap. One factor during the recruitment process included “having an ethic-sounding name.” When comparing resumes that had similar content but differences in names, they found those with non-ethnic sounding names were 35% more likely to get a callback. Belonging to a racialized group also decreased employment security; 20.9 % of visible minorities reported experiencing discrimination as a barrier to maintaining employment opportunities.

Career mobility

Career mobility among the BIPOC community is a major issue that needs to be addressed. BIPOC are consistently underrepresented in senior leadership positions. A report from Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute (2019) found that although Greater Montreal’s population was made up of 22.6% of racialized people, only 5.3 % held senior leadership positions. Additionally, in The Black Experience Project, Black people living in the Greater Toronto Area were asked how being Black has affected their work experience (Ryerson Diversity Institute, 2017). Participants cited challenges in their career including “having their level of competency questioned, dealing with racism and stereotypes, and having their qualifications overlooked or not recognized.” Expertise in the BIPOC community is often overlooked and this can be very discouraging for those who want to be in senior leadership roles.

Assess your biases

When thinking about the ways you as a career professional can help your BIPOC clients, first, assess your bias. Harvard has a race-based Implicit Associate Test (IAT) that can help you understand your blind spots when it comes to race. Take this test to understand where your biases may be and develop a strategy to actively work on them. Understand that systemic racism in Canada exists and professionals from the BIPOC community have historically been discriminated against, both during the recruitment process and in the workforce. Next, if you realize you have blind spots, take the necessary steps to learn, listen and be receptive to the experiences of BIPOC.

Building resilience

Challenge systems that serve to benefit certain populations and cause harm to others. Ask yourself what you can do to propose alternative processes that support and provide equitable opportunities for BIPOC.

Here are some strategies that you can start to engage in to advocate for opportunities for the BIPOC community:

  • Become an ally; use your power and privilege to help dismantle oppressive systems that serve to promote white supremacy and negatively affects BIPOC’s career journeys.
  • Partner with organizations that do advocacy work to address the specific needs of BIPOC.
  • Assess if education streams your BIPOC clients are being steered into are limiting and help provide options to expand career opportunities.
  • Empower your BIPOC clients by connecting them to mentorship, networks and leadership opportunities to help them build their career.
  • Speak to employers about potential biases and blind spots, advocate for opportunities and amplify BIPOC voices.
  • Stand up to racism and oppression when you see it, engage in crucial conversations and seek reinforcements to help support your work.
  • Form a network that can be a referral source for culturally appropriate resources that can support mental health, build networks and enhance growth.

With these strategies in mind, continue to help your BIPOC clients succeed and navigate the barriers they may be experiencing in their career.

Jodi Tingling is a career and wellness practitioner who works with leaders, professionals and organizations to ensure they meet their true potential. Her true passion is working to empower the voices and experiences of Black Indigenous Women of Colour (BIWOC). As the founder of Creating New Steps, she amplifies organizations and professionals to meet their unique workplace goals.


Block, S., Galabuzi, G., & Tranjan, R. (2019) Canada’s colour coded income inequality. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Retrieved from

Comas-Díaz, L., Hall, G. N., & Neville, H. A. (2019). Racial trauma: Theory, research, and healing: Introduction to the special issue. American Psychologist, 74(1), 1-5.

Okun, Tema. (n.d.) White supremacy culture. Retrieved from

Ryerson Diversity Institute. (2017). The Black experience project in the GTA: Overview report. Retrieved from—1-overview-report.pdf

Ryerson Diversity Institute. (2019). Diversity leads women & racialized people in senior leadership positions. Retrieved from

The Conference Board of Canada. (2017). Racial wage gap. Retrieved from

York University. (2017). Towards race equity in education: The schooling of Black students in the Greater Toronto Area. Retrieved from