Corporate Canada has ‘a lot of work to do’ fighting racism: Study

Many Canadian businesses have made public statements and announcements regarding their commitment to combating racism in recent years, but new research from PR agency Proof Strategies suggest that Black Canadians are skeptical of these efforts.

Proof’s first-ever “CanTrust Index Study of Black Canadians,” an addition to its seven-year-old “CanTrust Index,” found that Black Canadians were nearly unanimous (90%) in their belief that corporations “have a responsibility to address racism,” although only 38% trust that they are doing it.

More than two-thirds of respondents (67%) agreed there is a lot of racism in Canada today, while just 41% said they see positive societal change happening with response to racism, and less than one-quarter (23%) said they believe that people are treated equally in Canadian society.

The 45-page study, which was led by the Black-owned and operated research firm On Point Insight and based on interviews with 311 Black Canadians representative of the population by region, age and gender, concludes that corporate Canada has “a lot of work to do” to grow trust among Black Canadians. The results are considered accurate within plus or minus 2.5%.

Not surprisingly, there are stark differences between how the Black population and general population regard companies’ efforts around anti-racism and diversity, equity and inclusion. While 70% of Black Canadians say they are more likely to trust brands and companies that commit to diversity and inclusion policies, for example, that number drops to 54% among respondents from the general population.

The findings suggest areas of opportunity for brands and companies, particularly as it relates to their DEI efforts, said Proof’s senior vice-president Bunmi Adeoye. “It shows that if a brand has made that commitment to [DEI], to continue that commitment and to dig deep,” she said. “That’s something that’s going to be appealing not just to their Black employees, but their Black stakeholders and customers.”

Adeoye said her biggest takeaway from the study is that while 35% of all Black Canadians agree that most people can be trusted (compared to 49% of the general population) that number falls to 24% among younger Black respondents, 18-34. “There’s an opportunity there to make sure [marketers are] connecting with the things that are meaningful to young Black Canadians,” she said.

“They’re super-skeptical of our institutions, of our leaders, of our corporations. From a marketing perspective, how are we making sure that we’re doing things that are really going to be meaningful for that younger group.”

If companies are showing themselves to be committed to fairness, equity and inclusion, it will make Black consumers keener to do business with that company, said Adeoye. “What they’re saying is that ‘Your values as a company align with my values as a human.'”

In verbatims, Black respondents indicated that they trust brands that do what they say and demonstrate that they are fair and open to diversity. Other words used to describe attributes that would lead to their trust include “honest,” “transparent,” “reliable,” “researchable,” “familiarity” and “time.”

Asked what would lead them to distrust a brand, Black respondents said they would distrust any company that is generally not well-liked by the public, and prioritizes profits over its employees. Others said they would distrust any company or brand whose corporate goals and dealings with the public are not transparent, or open to public scrutiny.

Both Black Canadians and the general population are most trusting of the Canadian Red Cross at 67% and 61% respectively, but Black Canadians also indicated a high degree of trust in two media brands: CTV and CBC/Radio-Canada at 61%. Amazon was their most-trusted brand outside of the non-profit/media realm, trusted by 49% of Black Canadians, just ahead of Mastercard (49%) and The Globe and Mail (48%).

“To increase my confidence, companies must do a few things,” said one respondent. “Demonstrate extraordinary value in their products and services, and how they affect me; they also must align with my values; express concern for the environment and climate change; they must be transparent and caring; and finally, they need to pursue goals other than just pure profit. Be a good corporate citizen.”

More than three-quarters (77%) of Black Canadians say they have experienced racism either first-hand or as a witness, and less than half (48%) believe the country is performing well when it comes to diversity (compared to 59% of the general population). And while half of the general population believes that Canada is inclusive, that number falls to 42% among Black respondents.

“I think there’s a desire to improve, [but] I think it’s something where desire is not enough: It needs to be followed-up by action,” said Adeoye. “What are the steps that brands are going to take to actually make that impact. There’s a place for brands to make that positive impact, but what are you doing to do to walk the talk?”

Chris Powell