Corporate Canada needs to look more like Canada

by Jaqui Parchment – Chief Executive Officer, Mercer Canada Goldy Hyder – President and Chief Executive Officer, Business Council of Canada


“Corporate Canada needs to look more like Canada.”  That’s the call to action from Jaqui Parchment.  As CEO of Mercer Canada she is one of only a very few Black women CEOs in the country.  

She is also a Director of the BlackNorth Initiative and a founding member of the Black Opportunity Fund.  And she is a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion.

This summer, over 200 business leaders gathered to participate in the BlackNorth Summit, making commitments to address anti-Black racism in their workplaces.   

But change doesn’t happen overnight.  

What do companies need to do to keep the momentum going over the coming months and years?

As we start a new season of Speaking of Business, Jaqui Parchment joins us to talk about how to bring about change, the importance of mentorship, and why businesses need to move from inclusion to creating a sense of belonging in the workplace.

Transcript:

Jaqui Parchment:

How much more productive, how much more enabled our people to move up the corporate ranks, if they can bring their whole selves to work. It’s an incredibly important thing.

Goldy Hyder:

Welcome to Speaking of Business, conversations with Canadian innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. I’m Goldy Hyder president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada and the voice you just heard belongs to Jaqui Parchment, CEO of Mercer Canada, and one of only a very few black women CEOs in this country.

Goldy Hyder:

I spoke with her a few weeks ago at the end of a summer punctuated by protests over racial injustice. We all remember the shocking death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May. By late August, the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin was also in the headlines. In the months between those two events, we learned the names of countless others, be they black, indigenous, or people of colour, who have experienced violent acts of racism and discrimination. They have led to protests around the world and some important and difficult conversations about how to end racism in our communities.

Goldy Hyder:

Earlier this summer, I was honored to participate in the BlackNorth Summit. The virtual meeting brought together business leaders from across the country who made commitments to take action to end anti-black racism in their workplaces. It was really inspiring to see many leaders pledge to bring about real change.

Goldy Hyder:

But change doesn’t happen overnight. What do companies need to do now to keep the momentum going over the coming months and years? Jaqui Parchment brings a unique perspective to this discussion. In addition to heading up Mercer Canada, she is also a Director of the BlackNorth Initiative and a founding member of the Black Opportunity Fund. She’s a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion in corporate Canada. Jaqui, I’m very pleased you could join us for this important conversation.

Jaqui Parchment:

It’s so great to be here, Goldy.

Goldy Hyder:

As I said in this introduction, there’s just so much happening, so much to talk about but before we go there, who are you? What’s your journey? How did you end up being where you are?

Jaqui Parchment:

Well, listen, I’m many things. My day job, as you said, I’m really proud to serve as CEO of Mercer Canada. I’m a black woman. I’m an immigrant from Jamaica. I’m a sister. I’m a friend. I’m a member of the community. I’m a godmother. I’m many things.

Goldy Hyder:

Jaqui, we’re speaking in late August, just after the shooting of Jacob Blake. That shooting happened after months of scrutiny and worldwide protests and calls for action against racism. How are you feeling about the fact that we’re going through it again?

Jaqui Parchment:

You know, Goldy, I think if you speak with most black people in Canada, the word that you’ll hear most often is tired and exhausted. First and foremost, most of the references that you’ve made to violent acts refer to the United States, acts in the United States. I’d also like to draw your attention to some of the really horrifying statistics that are coming out in Canada, because it is just so important for us as a community to acknowledge that this is not just an American problem.

Jaqui Parchment:

There’s been some great work done in terms of finally acknowledging and looking at the data on treatment of blacks in Canada. Some examples. If you look at the incidents of COVID with respect to black people in Toronto, 21 per cent of the infections are black. People who are infected are black. We are less than 9 per cent of the population. The white population is close to 50 per cent of people in Toronto, and there are fewer white people who have COVID in this city. That is a sign that there’s something deeply wrong in terms of our healthcare system and in terms of the systemic racism that we face.

Jaqui Parchment:

Really painful statistics around opportunity for black children in our school boards, where twice as many black children right now are being streamed out of academic courses as white children and we certainly have seen our own incidents of violence perpetrated against black people by the police here in Canada.

Jaqui Parchment:

Rolling all of this up, it just feels like so much. On the one hand, I am proud, I am happy to see that there’s so much conversation about this. I do feel that there’s a willingness to walk through the door and make change this time, but it is just exhausting at the same time to see these terrible things happening and to see the statistics in our own community.

Goldy Hyder:

It’s interesting. I was going to ask you later on about the COVID situation and the impact, because it is quite clear, and your statistics just validate that, that while we say the virus doesn’t discriminate in terms of borders and so forth, it actually does discriminate on socio-economic. Are you seeing that as a moment in which the journey back can start by helping people at the most basic of levels?

Jaqui Parchment:

Absolutely. Really proud to be part of two important initiatives, BlackNorth, and the Black Opportunity Fund. With my work with a Black Opportunity Fund, I co-lead a work stream that deals with community outreach, which means that we are literally meeting with dozens of community organizations, including organizations that deal with health and black health, many of the leading black physician organizations across Canada. This is a topic of real conversation.

Jaqui Parchment:

The disproportionate impact that COVID has had on our community, and I’d say part B of this is also the impact that we’re seeing in terms of black mental health. That comes from the fatigue at having to see incident after incident, statistic after statistic, as well as just the fact that the healthcare system, we don’t think, is as responsive to the needs of our community.

Goldy Hyder:

You mentioned mental health as well, another area that I know you and many others are quite concerned about where we are. How much concern do you have about the damage that’s going to be done during COVID and where we will be from a post-pandemic perspective? Because that’s a lasting impact when you’re talking about mental health.

Jaqui Parchment:

It is a lasting impact. As we said at the top of this, I’m many things. I’m really proud to be CEO of my firm, Mercer Canada. I’m concerned about mental health for everybody. We’re doing a lot in my organization to try and secure and do more to enable the mental health of our people, including speaking openly and not being shy about the impact it’s having on all of us, including our leadership. We’re also helping many of our clients deal with this as well.

Jaqui Parchment:

But we have to remind ourselves as we move into this marathon, and it has become a marathon, how deeply weird this time is. You can be tempted to think, we’re all functioning pretty well.

Goldy Hyder:

You wake up thinking, is this really happening?

Jaqui Parchment:

Absolutely. You have to stop yourself sometimes and acknowledge how deeply weird this is. I think it’s very important for all of us to be aware of the toll that COVID is taking on all of Canada, but certainly if you’re a part of a community that is so disproportionately affected, if you are much more likely to have relatives, friends, loved ones impacted by COVID, if you are also more likely to face vulnerability in terms of losing your job or having to be on the direct frontline, as the black community is, yes, I’m especially worried for our community.

Goldy Hyder:

You’re partially implying this, and I may have said this on another podcast or our listeners might have heard it, but my wife had seen something way back on the internet in March, where it effectively said, are we the virus and is COVID the vaccine? I wonder if the attention being given to racism and this issue would be the same if we were all just living our daily lives and we didn’t have the working from home moment and the TV’s on all the time or we’re chatting way more, we’re Zooming way more. This may be, you don’t want to use this word in a health crisis, but this moment, this chance to get it right. If we don’t get it right now, are you concerned that we might just return to regularly scheduled programming afterwards and everybody will move on and say, well, that was an issue, but it’ll always be there.

Jaqui Parchment:

Well, first I think your wife sounds like a really smart lady.

Goldy Hyder:

Well, she saw it on the internet, in fairness to her. I just memorized the line. But she’s smart, nevertheless.

Jaqui Parchment:

It’s good that she called it out. I think that’s a really interesting perspective. The short answer is I don’t think that we would be paying as much attention to the racial issues unfolding in front of us if it wasn’t for COVID. There is something about heightened emotion at this time, us all being at home, that I think has made it different.

Jaqui Parchment:

I will say to you Goldy, that if you’re a member of the black community, or if you’re a person of colour in this country, there is real fear that if we don’t act, and act quickly, to capture and seize this moment, that the moment we’ll move on and that if it’s not now, when will we be able to kick the door open and enact change?

Goldy Hyder:

Well, speaking of seizing the moment, our mutual friend Wes Hall, who’s been a guest on our podcast, the founder of the BlackNorth initiative, has pulled off, with the support of three co-chairs, all of whom I am proud to say are members of the Business Council of Canada. Let’s educate the listener about what role you think corporate Canada can play in moving the ball down the field on this issue.

Jaqui Parchment:

Corporate Canada has a huge role to play. First, immediately to recognize that corporate Canada needs to look more like Canada. We are very, very far from that point. You will have heard all the statistics from Wes and from others at BlackNorth. There is such a gap between the population of our leadership in this country, in corporate Canada, and how that population looks versus how we Canadians look.

Jaqui Parchment:

You said at the top of this podcast that I’m one of very few black female CEOs. I know that, because people often don’t believe I’m a CEO, believe it or not. There’s tremendous work to do because you cannot expect to make progress and to have a booming economy and to continue to have Canada be the great country it is, and have it be even greater, if you are only drawing from a pool that’s very small. We need to have all Canadians included in corporate Canada and included at all levels, not just at the entry level, if we’re going to make Canada as wonderful as it possibly can be.

Goldy Hyder:

I talk about corporate Canada for obvious reasons, but I feel like this is a real all-in moment. Professional sports is taking a stand from basketball to baseball to hockey. They’re calling each other out on what needs to be done. Do you think this widespread attention to this issue is exactly what’s needed to finally deal with this as a society?

Jaqui Parchment:

Well, I certainly think we have the opportunity. By nature, I am a glass half-full person, so I believe we can get it right. But I don’t think we can underestimate how hard the work will be. I think there are many corporations or many individuals in our society that have put a down payment on making it right by acknowledging, by starting to do the hard work of understanding the complex problem. But there’s so much more to do to get to where we need to be.

Jaqui Parchment:

I will say one thing that I found incredibly hopeful and interesting, Goldy, was at the start of the real conversation about race, when I looked at the protestors that were on our streets, particularly in Canada, and I looked at the skin colour of those protestors, such a diverse group, particularly of young people.

Jaqui Parchment:

If you’re a CEO or a leader in this country, and you looked at who was on the streets, you have to realize that it’s not just your black workforce or the people of colour in your workforce or black Canadians that care about this. Many, many Canadians care about this and that gives me hope, because if you’re paying attention, you will realize that there is a huge expectation that now needs to be fulfilled.

Goldy Hyder:

You recently wrote a piece in The Globe and Mail, in July, about the difference between inclusion and belonging in the workplace. Here’s what you wrote, just for our listeners’ benefit, “I sat in meetings, attended networking events and activities, and started to notice and think about the thousand seemingly small things that happen at work every day that might make an employee feel like they don’t belong.”

Goldy Hyder:

Explain to me the difference between inclusion and belonging and what are some of those ways that, even ignorantly or innocently, people are made to feel like they don’t belong.

Jaqui Parchment:

Inclusion is when corporations or others are consciously seeking to reach out and make people feel like they’re welcome. Belonging is where it’s just seamless, where you just feel like you can walk into the workplace and you can be entirely who you are, where you don’t have to put a different face on, or you don’t have to pretend to be something that you are not. How much more productive, how much more enabled are people to move up the corporate ranks, if they can bring their whole selves to work? It’s an incredibly important thing.

Goldy Hyder:

That’s very well said. When I read this, it reminded me of the importance of words, labels, the meanings behind them. I’ve often, as a minority myself, never really liked the word tolerate. I’ve always felt that that’s what you’re asked to do when a baby’s crying on a plane. I’m going to have to tolerate this. But understanding would be to say, geez, the baby must be hungry or needs a diaper change or something.

Goldy Hyder:

I think the words that you’ve stressed here really matter. I think that in society even the best of intentions still get measured by actions and outcomes. That’s where we are. How do we now sustain this momentum that’s developed over the course of the last few months to make sure that this has an outcome that we all say, wow, we actually changed things.

Jaqui Parchment:

It’s going to be complicated. First and foremost, recognize how important it is that we do this. To this point, Goldy, throughout this conversation we’ve mainly been talking about the empathy side of the argument for diversity. Let’s not forget the economic side of this. Going back to my point about the people on the streets. As a black woman, I was heartened by that, for all the reasons I just said. As a CEO, I thought to myself, wow, this is a reminder to me that, particularly millennials in my workforce, and the generations that come after them, have an expectation of diversity.

Jaqui Parchment:

If you want to have the best possible workforce and attract and retain who you want, you have to make sure it’s diverse, both because it’s going to give you better outcomes, better conversations, you will have more colleagues of diversity on the workforce, but you will also, I think, do a better job of attracting and retaining white colleagues and colleagues of other colours. Let’s not forget the economic argument.

Jaqui Parchment:

Also, I think it’s really important, right now, right today, to put a stake in the ground with respect to stating what your actions are going to be and how you will measure your organization and the consequence of not achieving those actions.

Jaqui Parchment:

I’m on record as saying that you need to listen in order to really, fully make your diversity plan. So many organizations, myself included, are continuing to listen, but I think your workforce has an expectation of seeing some action. Starting to talk about, starting to articulate, the goals that you are going to work towards, how you will measure yourself against those goals, and the consequence to your leadership if you don’t attain those goals.

Jaqui Parchment:

Many of the things that can actually move us to action and put the stake in the ground are in the BlackNorth pledge. Obviously I’m a huge supporter of organizations signing on for that. There’s some organizations that have not, but have come out and put the stake in the ground and said, this is what we will do and this is how we will measure. If you don’t do that now, I think a year from now it’s going to be hard to see that you will have made progress.

Goldy Hyder:

I can see this issue getting to the place where the environmental issues have gotten too for many corporations. It’s become a shareholder issue. It’s become a financing issue. It’s become, as you pointed out in terms of recruitment and retention and attracting the best talent. You anticipated my next question, because it was about the importance and the economic argument for creating a culture of belonging. You’ve mentioned the listening.

Goldy Hyder:

I want to ask about the current environment which we’re operating. Do you feel that resentment might be building in any way, shape, or form? Do you think that there’s a risk that, from a CEO perspective, as someone who needs talent and labour, are you worried about the ability to get that talent and labour from an immigration perspective, from a skills perspective, diversity aside, just as a CEO looking to grow your business and address the aging issues that every businesses are facing, how are you feeling about some of those things? Do you think we can, as many are saying, come back better and come back stronger out of all of this, on these kinds of issues?

Jaqui Parchment:

Yes and yes, would be the short answer. Certainly before COVID, actually through COVID, a big part of my job is reaching out to our clients, speaking with the C-suite of the clients that we work with. Mercer does everything to help organizations keep, find, promote the best talent. Any organization that I talk to, whether it’s a large pension fund, whether it’s a bank, whether it’s a tech firm, when I say, what is the biggest issue or concern that’s on your mind? It’s talent. Consistently.

Goldy Hyder:

No question.

Jaqui Parchment:

Now we’re in COVID and yes, many organizations are pausing, maybe retrenching a little bit, maybe retrenching a lot, unfortunately in some organizations, on hiring their workforce. But this is not going to last, because there are fundamental demographic issues that we face in Canada. You talked about our aging workforce. Fundamentally we’re a country that should be in growth mode.

Jaqui Parchment:

We’re going to come out of COVID. We know we’re going to come out of COVID. We know in the long run, it’s going to be fine. Definition of the long run, I guess is a question mark. You don’t want to come out of COVID and not have great talent and not have the people that you want to work for you want to work for you.

Jaqui Parchment:

It does mean that as we think through COVID, and as we think through what we’ve learned through COVID, and my organization has learned a lot and I know our clients have learned a lot, you need to marry that with the thought process that you’re going through on diversity and build back better.

Goldy Hyder:

Can you share with us some of the things that you or your clients have learned through this?

Jaqui Parchment:

Certainly. The importance of transparency, clarity, understanding how your employees are feeling through COVID. I think this is a moment… I hate to use the word branding, because it sounds a little cold, but I think that how your employees think about you and their engagement level is really going to be defined by this moment.

Goldy Hyder:

I think it speaks a lot to character. Defines who you are as a person, as a leader.

Jaqui Parchment:

It defines who you are, who your organization is, what your culture is, and yes, it defines your leadership. What did you do to keep your employees safe? What did you do to keep your employees whole? I mean mentally whole as well as physically whole. No one is expecting that corporations are not going to care about profit or staying in business. You have to worry about empathy and you have to worry about economics. The two, 100 per cent, have to be intertwined. Your company cannot do well if your employees are not well. Your employees will not be well if your company is not financially well. How you express that and how you live that, I think, will resonate with your employees along after COVID is over.

Goldy Hyder:

Can I ask, where are you drawing your wisdom from?

Jaqui Parchment:

So many, many sources. Starting with the fundamentals that were taught to me by my family and my parents, who unfortunately are no longer with us. I’ve been fortunate to have some fantastic mentors along the way. By the way, pretty much 100 per cent white men. When you talk about helping black people and women advance, you don’t have to always be a person of colour or a woman.

Goldy Hyder:

I think that’s a very important point. A lot of people think that only your own will understand. It’s not at all about that.

Jaqui Parchment:

No, it’s about being willing to engage with people that can support you and people that you can support. You do not have to look like the person that you’re mentoring and sponsoring, and vice-versa. If I had relied on that, there’s zero chance I would be where I am today because there was almost no one who looked like me along the journey.

Jaqui Parchment:

In terms of other sources of support, of course, I read a lot. I’m really fortunate, actually, that with much of the advocacy work that I’m doing, I get to be with other really smart community minded people and I draw inspiration from that as well.

Goldy Hyder:

What are you reading right now?

Jaqui Parchment:

Listen, life is pretty heavy these days so I got to say I’m big into escapism. There is a Canadian murder mystery series by a woman by the name of Louise, I think her first name is Louise, Penny, and she writes a series with an Inspector Gamache, her hero. It’s based in the Eastern townships of Quebec. I am on book number 11.

Goldy Hyder:

Wow. You’ve escaped. We need to find you.

Jaqui Parchment:

I’m on book number 11 of 19 and really happy that I have eight more to go and keep me distracted.

Goldy Hyder:

You and I make a pretty interesting pair. Let me tell you why. You said your father is of Jamaican heritage. Is your father and mother of Jamaican heritage?

Jaqui Parchment:

They were both from the Caribbean.

Goldy Hyder:

Caribbean, okay. You’ve got a Jamaican background. I have East Indian parents. You know who else has East Indian parents and Jamaican mix?

Jaqui Parchment:

Let me guess.

Goldy Hyder:

Go ahead, guess.

Jaqui Parchment:

Our friend, Miss Kamala Harris.

Goldy Hyder:

There you go. I’m wondering, at a time like this, where we have a vice president nominee, given the conversation we’ve had, how important is that? Is it just symbolism or is it much more?

Jaqui Parchment:

It is incredibly important. First, the symbolism itself, I think, is important, Goldy. One of the things I’ve had to face, and I know you will have had to face this as well, is there are so few people that look like you that sometimes people don’t believe that you are in the role that you are. In the building that I live in, I’ve been mistaken for the cleaning lady on more than one occasion. I’ve actually had many people say to me, you don’t look like a CEO.

Jaqui Parchment:

I am hopeful that if there is a vice president of the United States, that looks like Kamala Harris, or even the fact that there’s a nominee, it starts to set a tone that people can look and understand that diversity does exist. Inspiration for young black girls, for young Indian girls, for young mixed girls. It’s an incredibly powerful symboL but also just showing to the world that we can be more than people assume we can be.

Goldy Hyder:

I would normally want to end it right there, Jaqui, but this has been such a great conversation. I really want to ask you a question to put hope out there. Fast forward a year from now, two years from now, what change do you hope to see?

Jaqui Parchment:

First and foremost, I hope that all the talented black volunteers that I’m drawing from universities across Canada, that they all have great jobs. That would say something. I hope that we start to see that there really is a pipeline of talent building in corporate Canada being given the kind of opportunity that will allow them to get to where we can be. I hope that myself and other people of colour don’t all have at least one incident that they can report where they’re mistaken for the janitor, the cleaning lady, every black person has that story. Everybody has that story. It would be great in two years, not to have had any of those stories in two years.

Goldy Hyder:

Or any more deaths by the police.

Jaqui Parchment:

Yes and yes. If we get to a point where we stop as black parents and black aunties and black cousins having to have a different conversation with black sons then we’d have to have if we were white with our sons, I think that would be the ultimate sign of progress.

Goldy Hyder:

Well, look, you said it yourself, glass half-full. I think it’s because of people like you and your leadership and the journey that you’ve taken and the fact that you share it as openly as you do, that’s going to help us get there. Thank you so much for doing this. I think I could have gone on for twice the time, but I am very respectful of who you are and what you do as a CEO, Jaqui. Thank you so much for joining us.

Jaqui Parchment:

Thank you so much for spending time with me. Really appreciate the opportunity. You have a great day.

Goldy Hyder:

Jaqui Parchment is a CEO of Mercer Canada. She’s also a founding member of the Black Opportunity Fund and a Director of the BlackNorth Initiative. If you would like to hear more of our speaking of business conversations with innovators, leaders, and entrepreneurs, why not subscribe to our podcast? You can find it wherever you get your podcasts, or simply go to our website speakingofbiz.ca.

Goldy Hyder:

Until next time, I’m Goldy Hyder. Thanks for joining us. Stay safe, everyone.