Kitchener's Colleen James named to list of top Canadian Black women to watch this year

Colleen James is being recognized as one of Canada's top 100 Black women to watch in 2020 by the Canada International Black Women Event.

'It is very humbling and a little overwhelming,' James says

James was recognized at the award event on Oct., 17. (Submitted by Colleen James)

Colleen James is a name to look out for this year.

The Kitchener woman has been recognized by the Canada International Black Women Event as one of the nation's top 100 Black women to watch in 2020.

"It is very humbling and a little overwhelming," said James, who is well-known for her anti-racism work as CEO of Divonify, an equity and inclusion consulting firm.

"I help to make sure that people understand that regardless of our differences, we need to make sure that people feel like they belong," she said

As principal consultant, James helps address and dismantle systemic racism and oppression within corporations.

She's also a professor at Conestoga College in the school of business and sits on the Kitchener mayor's task force for equity, diversity and inclusion.

Long road ahead

James said growing up as a Black woman in the Waterloo region was challenging.

She said stereotypical assumptions were often made about her appearance and level of education, citing concerns over the lack of representation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) communities.

"This community has come so far, but at the same time people live in silos ... especially in the corporate world," she said. "People are becoming more overt, whereas before it was more subtle."

She adds, "There is so much work to be done."

She encouraged local leaders and managers to rethink outdated business models and frameworks to ensure all of their employees have the same opportunities. 

"We should be setting a new model of what it is to address systemic racism, anti-Black racism and racism in general. That means being held accountable, taking account, but also speaking up," she said.

James and her partner recently launched a scholarship for students of Caribbean heritage pursuing studies in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) fields.

Among many other accomplishments, James was also the recipient of the provincial 2020 Leading Women, Leading Girls recognition program.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.