Black History Month – Blazing Trails for African Canadian Youth

By 28 February 2019 No Comments

In a recent report released by the Brookfield Institute, it was found that visible minorities made up 31.9% of Canada’s tech workers and were more likely to work in tech occupations than non-visible minorities. However, participation rates for Black, Filipino, and Indigenous populations are low. There is also a significant pay gap for most visible minority groups.  Brookfield found that minorities earn $3,100 less annually than their non-visible minority counterparts, and that black tech workers were the lowest paid minority in the industry, with their yearly salary $13,000 less than other minorities and $16,000 less than non-visible minorities. As part of the report, Brookfield conducted a survey and found that Black workers in Toronto’s tech sector were less likely to feel that those who are different can thrive at their company compared to White, Asian, and other visible minorities. They also reported feeling less involved in the decision-making process at work (Brookfield Institute).

Challenging the biases that exist today for African Canadians in ICT occupations is a steady battle, and requires efforts from not only government and the ICT industry itself, but not-for-profit organizations. Historically, African Canadians have made significant contributions to our economy and to attacking these biases, yet are often overlooked. Look at Elijah McCoy,  he is known for inventing a device that lubricated a train’s moving parts while the train was in motion, is credited with inventing the portable ironing boards, and held more than 50 patents in total. There’s also Benjamin Banneker, who distinguished himself in many ways over his lifetime—as a mathematician, astronomer, and surveyor. He created an intricate, all-wood clock that reportedly kept time with “faultless precision” for 20 years. The timepiece was considered a mechanical wonder and attracted people from miles around. Carrie Best, an active civil rights advocate, is recognized as the first black woman to publish and own a newspaper in Nova Scotia. She founded The Clarion in 1946, which circulated until 1956 when it was renamed The Negro Citizen. As a journalist and publisher, Best used her media platform to advocate for the rights of black Canadians

In Honour of Black History Month, we think it’s important to note those that are making history today by helping to break the barriers that exist for men and women of colour and to make visible the fact that African Canadians are vital to the success of our economy. These barriers begin with our youth, and the challenges they face in the education system. For youth of colour, the bias of low expectations can have devastating effects on those young minds.

Looking to attack these biases and encourage young boys, is Black Boys Code. Founded by Bryan Johnston, Black Boys Code is a Not-for-Profit organization dedicated to introducing young boys of colour in their critical development years (ages 8 to 17) to computer science through one-day and two-day workshops, hackathons, after school and summer programs. The current racial divide in the computer science field calls for practical steps to close this gap and raise the percentage of Black students participating in tech. Simply put, far too many brilliant young men of colour aren’t choosing a career in technology, because they don’t see a place for themselves in the sector. Black Boys Code is working to change the mindset of young black men by creating a program of inclusiveness and on-going support that will help to close the diversity gap in the new economy. “With encouragement, education and empowerment, we are inspiring young men of colour to dive head first into technology” (Black Boys Code).

Another organization making waves for African Canadian children is the Power to Girls Foundation. The Power To Girls Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that helps empower Afro-diaspora girls in the Greater Toronto Area and abroad. Founded by Aisha Addo, the foundation is dedicated to providing positive mentorship, community interaction and recreational activities that inspire self-confidence, build self-esteem, friendships, nutritional health, and integrity in the hearts of all their girls. “The purpose of our foundation is to help young girls discover their individual identity, and creative gifts by developing qualities that will help them become leaders and contributing members of society” (Power To Girls). Research indicates creating an environment that is safe and accepting allows youths to recognize their cultural strengths and differences and supports positive outcomes. “We are dedicated to forming real and in-depth relationships with the girls that come through our programs through a Relationship-Based Approach to mentoring and building authentic human connections” (Power To Girls).

With organizations such as Power to Girls and Black Boys Code, we have hope for creating an equal and diverse ICT workforce in Canada. While encouraging Black youth is vital, it is up to the ICT industry to abolish biases in their organizations, and welcome a culturally diverse workplace. Training programs such as Cross-Cultural Competency Training (Hire Immigrants Ottawa) provides valuable resources for employers looking to diminish barriers and ignorance throughout their organizations. Let’s go beyond February and recognize the great impact of Black History on our society every day, and work together to blaze the trails for African Canadians in the tech industry.