Here’s What CBC Staff Told Their Bosses About The Need For Diversity

Union credits CANADALAND piece for exposing "years of virtual inaction" and prompting staff to write management.

At top: the members of the CBC’s board of directors and senior executive team.

Last summer, CANADALAND published a story on the lack of diversity among CBC staff, citing an internal company survey taken between 2011 and March 2016 showing that about 90% of its employees were white.

Now, a year later, the CBC’s union, the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), believes there is reason to be cautiously hopeful that things are beginning to change.

In June, the union’s Joint Employment Equity Committee published a bulletin stating that over the previous year, the CBC had renewed its commitment to equitable hiring practices — and crediting the CANADALAND article with sparking the conversation.

The piece “exposed years of virtual inaction,” wrote the CMG, and led CBC staff “from across the country” to send a pair of letters to CBC president Hubert Lacroix and CBC News editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire demanding changes in hiring practices.

“Things that management had just been talking about were suddenly pushed into action,” the bulletin stated, “including company-wide unconscious bias training for managers and a leadership training program for visible minorities. We congratulate our members for effectively bringing change as a grassroots group.”

The October 2016 letter to Lacroix, obtained by CANADALAND and published in full below, was signed by 23 staff at CBC and Radio-Canada, including a handful of high-profile on-air talent.

“The time has come,” they wrote, “for CBC/Radio-Canada to abide by its own government-sanctioned mandate and reflect the country back to itself in all of its texture and complexity. A diverse workforce can no longer be an aspiration for CBC/Radio-Canada, particularly in its major centres, where diversity in major urban centres surpasses the average national percentage.”

The failure to address this issue was “eroding the integrity of our beloved institution, negatively impacting the CBC/Radio-Canada brand, and most critically, does a disservice to Canadians.”

The CBC has struggled to increase diversity among its staff for years, despite a mandate to represent the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada, including four groups that have historically had problems securing employment: women, people of colour, Indigenous peoples, and people with disabilities.

In the CBC’s 2014-2015 annual report, the institution noted that its staff was made up of 46% women, 1.5% Aboriginal people, 1.7% persons with disabilities, and 8.5% visible minorities. In its latest (2015-2016) report, the CBC wrote that as of March 31, 2016, it was 47.8% women, 1.6% Aboriginal people, 1.6% persons with disabilities, and 9.3% visible minorities.

“To this end, we are calling for a mechanism to verify managers’ accountability to these expectations,” said the CMG bulletin. “We are adamant that the Corporation must take our goals and initiatives seriously. To get there, we will continue to press for hard data on the numbers from the four designated groups being hired into management roles as well as in the overall structure of the CBC; and for tangible steps to ensure that unconscious bias is removed from the hiring process.”

The Equity Committee’s bulletin came not long after senior manager Steve Ladurantaye participated in a Twitter conversation in which he offered to donate $100 toward establishing a “cultural appropriation prize.” Less than a week later, he was demoted from managing editor in charge of rebooting The National to a role with the CBC’s “Content Experience area.” Ladurantaye instead gave $100 to Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

The committee wrote that the inclusion of “unconscious bias training and the histories of Indigenous and racialized people” in management training will “hopefully” lead to “a workplace where insensitive comments on social media by top-line managers are a thing of the past.”

According to the letter to Lacroix, Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey found that 4.3% of the population was Indigenous, compared to only 1.5% of CBC employees. And it pointed out that among the CBC’s senior executive team and board of directors, only one out of the 20 at the time could be said to belong to either an Indigenous or Visible Minority group, and that just 0.6% of managers and middle managers were Indigenous despite the industry availability standing at 2.2%.

After CANADALAND’s 2016 article was published, CBC Ottawa News co-anchor Adrian Harewood became one of the most outspoken CBC employees, and helped in drafting the letters.

“A lot of people reached out to me, but I also reached out to a lot of people as well,” he says in an an interview. “I think it’s an opportunity, I think it’s an opening, and you have to seize that moment and try to push and get people to come forward with their stories.”

Harewood says that the response to the letter was positive and that lots of conversation was facilitated. He sees efforts being made by the people he works for, although more should still be done.

“I actually think the article did the country, and I think it did CBC, a service. I think it helped to push the organization and push its members, its employees, to engage in a conversation that some people might have found uncomfortable,” he says.

Douglas Chow, CBC senior manager of public relations, says in an email that the corporation has committed that by 2020, 23% of new hires across CBC/Radio-Canada will be from diverse backgrounds, and that “even though we’re confident that we’ll reach this goal ahead of schedule, we’re continuing our efforts.”

“CBC/Radio-Canada immediately invited the signatories of the letter to meet and discuss their concerns with the president. We also addressed the concerns raised in the letter with the Joint Employment Equity Committee in November 2016,” he says.

The CBC has plenty of initiatives underway, including employee resource groups to support staff within the four groups, and a diversity and inclusion fund to help recruit and maintain those staff.

“Organizational realities such as a low turnover rate among current employees and successive budget cuts, which tend to target more junior hires, have affected the Corporation’s ability to quickly implement diversity initiatives in the past,” Chow says.

One signatory who spoke to CANADALAND — but asked that his name not be used to protect his future career — says that he thinks the CANADALAND article provoked frustrations but that it was also unifying for many staff.

“I don’t recall anything like that happening in my time at CBC, where people from the Black community, or the South Asian community, or Indigenous community, sort of banding together in that way. So it was pretty neat to see that unfold like that,” he says. He has worked at the CBC for over a decade.

“There are diverse hires that are happening, and I think that’s good, but there need to be that sort at the management and executive level to really effect that change,” he says. “You can be an aware, tolerant, and sensitive boss as much as you want, and you can work hard to improve your coverage, but until you really address some of those staffing issues, I don’t think the changes can happen.”

Another signatory, who also asked that her name not be used, agrees that the focus should be on diversifying hiring within higher-up positions.

“I think the biggest takeaway is that management is very white and they’re the ones who make the decisions,” she says. “The people who are in charge of assigning the stories, the people who are in charge of building the lineup for the shows, have all the same mindset and the same kind of experiences.”

“We’re losing a lot of extremely talented people because they feel their voices aren’t heard,” she says. “I was listening to some of the story meetings that were happening and the assignment meeting in the CBC is basically 90-95% white people — how can you have almost 100% of people trying to assign news stories across Canada be all white?”

While Harewood is proud of everyone who signed the letter, he also understands not everyone has the power to speak openly about it.

“To me, the noteworthy thing about that was the fact that a lot of people on that list who signed, relatively speaking, don’t have a lot of power,” he says. “I’m the host of a show, I have some power. And so it’s incumbent upon me to speak.”

“It made me really proud that they were willing to do that, because a lot of them weren’t in a position where they were protected, necessarily. And the truth is that there were a lot of people in senior positions, influential positions, well-known journalists, people with a lot of power within CBC who chose not to.”


October 3 2016

Attention: Mr. Hubert Lacroix – President of CBC Radio-Canada and the CBC Radio-Canada Leadership Team.

Dear Mr. Lacroix

As proud and dedicated advocates for and caretakers of public broadcasting, we believe it is our duty to speak. We speak for the generations who sacrificed to make space for us. We speak for those who will succeed us.

We, the signatories to this letter, are writing to express our deep concern about the critical state of race and representation at CBC/Radio-Canada, and to propose a potential course of action. There is an ongoing failure to effectively address matters of diversity in all aspects of CBC/Radio-Canada operations. It is eroding the integrity of our beloved institution, negatively impacting the CBC/Radio-Canada brand, and most critically, does a disservice to Canadians.

We represent hundreds of years of service at CBC/Radio Canada. We are women and men. We are Indigenous. We are Asian. We are White. We are Black. We are Brown. We are Latino and Latina. We are disabled and able-bodied. We are LGBTQ. We are straight. We are Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials. We have deep roots in all areas of the country and in regions around the globe. We reflect Canada as it is.

CBC/Radio Canada’s mandate is set out in the Canadian Broadcasting Act and requires that the corporation “reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions,” and “reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada.”

According to the results of the 2011 Census about 20% of Canada’s population are Visible Minorities and 4.3% are Indigenous. CBC/Radio-Canada’s most recent report on employment equity statistics from 2014-2015 note that just 8.3% of CBC/Radio-Canada employees are Visible Minorities and only 1.5% are Indigenous. For the sake of comparison, according to the American Society of News Editors, in 2015 the New York Times had 19% minority newsroom representation and the Washington Post had 31%.

The time has come for CBC/Radio-Canada to abide by its own government-sanctioned mandate and reflect the country back to itself in all of its texture and complexity. A diverse workforce can no longer be an aspiration for CBC/Radio-Canada, particularly in its major centres, where diversity in major urban centers surpasses the average national percentage. For example about 50% of Toronto’s population are People of Colour, 54% of Vancouverites are from Visible Minority and Indigenous groups and 35% of Edmonton’s residents are Visible Minorities.

In most corporations, real power and influence is wielded by those who are in the boardroom and behind the scenes. Yet, in 2016, people of colour remain grossly under-represented in almost all key decision-making positions at CBC/Radio-Canada. Amongst the CBC/Radio-Canada’s senior executive team comprised of eight individuals and the board of directors, comprised of twelve men and women, only one of those twenty people (5%) could be said to belong to either an Indigenous or Visible Minority group. Just .6% of managers and middle managers are Indigenous despite the industry availability being 2.2% while only 8.3% of managers and middle managers are Visible Minorities despite the industry availability being 15%. By way of comparison 54% of CBC/Radio-Canada managers and middle managers are women despite the industry availability being only 38.9%.

Invariably, these “decision makers” are the organization’s gatekeepers. Every day, they make determinations that affect: editorial choice; hiring and firings; budgets; the deployment of limited resources; corporate strategy; long term planning and organizational culture. Their priorities guide CBC/Radio-Canada and shape the stories Canadians watch, read and hear. Canadian public broadcasting will only realize its potential and fulfill its fiduciary responsibility by embracing the depth and breadth of its citizenry.

CBC/Radio Canada must develop and implement a more effective coordinated action plan to recruit, retain, mentor and support individuals from Canada’s diverse ethno-racial communities. Managers must be mandated to scour the country and actively recruit qualified candidates to fill vacancies rather than waiting for people to apply. They must be held accountable if established targets are not met. Incentives and pay bonuses for managers ought to be tied to hitting hiring targets of Indigenous and visible minority recruits, rather than simply ratings and other more traditional definitions of a programme’s success.

CBC/Radio-Canada should consider partnering with journalism schools and high schools across the country to offer scholarships, bursaries, fellowships and internships for Indigenous and Visible Minority students. Such initiatives could help to increase the number of these students attending journalism programs at post-secondary institutions across the country and let their communities know that they belong at CBC and CBC belongs to them. As CBC/Radio-Canada’s current Senior Executive Team and Board of Directors includes several lawyers and business people, the corporation should also consider establishing managerial internships for Indigenous and Visible Minority students.

Every CBC/Radio-Canada program or department must be required to produce an annual year-end progress report outlining how many Indigenous and Visible Minority staff members the executive producers/managing editors began the year with, how many were retained, how many vacancies materialized during the year (including short term contracts and casual employees) and what efforts were made to actively recruit (as opposed to hiring decisions based just on the pool that applied) staff from Indigenous and Visible Minority backgrounds to fill those positions.

A diverse workforce, informed by a range of life experiences and grounded in Canada’s diverse communities, will help to deepen our conversations. It will broaden the stories we tell and affect how we tell them. It will inspire: unconventional interventions; unorthodox and novel questions; fresh and critical perspectives. It will make us more relevant to the communities we serve and expand our appeal to Canadians who have not traditionally seen or heard themselves reflected, either in the programming or personnel at CBC/Radio-Canada.

We believe CBC/Radio-Canada can become the vital 21st century public broadcaster that Canadians deserve. We want to hear your ideas about how CBC/Radio-Canada can create a sustainable pipeline that will identify, cultivate, nurture, and promote diverse talent for positions in all areas, and at every level of the corporation. We are committed to collaborating with you to achieve that goal.

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