Nova Scotia

New network aims to create opportunities for African Nova Scotians

A new initiative launched by Black Business Consulting Ltd. seeks to address a significant underrepresentation of African Nova Scotians in the workplace.

Diversity Employment Network plans to reduce discriminatory practices, increase workplace diversity

Idy Fashoranti says the Diversity Employment Network will work with employers to adjust their corporate culture to ensure employee retention. (Paul Adams)

A newly launched two-year pilot project aims to address the underrepresentation of African Nova Scotians in the province's workplaces. 

The Diversity Employment Network was created by Black Business Consulting, the social enterprise arm of the Black Business Initiative group. Its goal is to reduce discriminatory practices and promote diversity in the workplace.

The initiative was approved to start last March but was delayed by the pandemic. 

It's work that is sorely needed, according to Idy Fashoranti, the network's director of operations. 

"The job seekers in the Black community are not getting the jobs that they want," she said. "They are underemployed and they are unemployed."

She said employers are looking to increase diversity and the network aims to put African Nova Scotians directly in front of employers so that they are given the opportunity to prove themselves.

She described linking employers and potential employees as one of several activities the network undertakes. 

Another is in mentoring job seekers to develop their social skills, preparing them for interviews and letting them know what jobs are available.

Retaining staff

Fashoranti said that while many companies want to increase diversity in their workplace, their structure is not always welcoming to minority communities. This leads to challenges in retaining staff members.

"They come in and they go because they don't feel welcome in such a community. Some of them feel as if they were employed just to have that .... we have this many people of the African Nova Scotian community in our organization."

She said those employees leave and take jobs that are lower than their qualifications just to be comfortable. 

Fashoranti said the network hopes to "take the pulse" of businesses and guide them to make adjustments. 

"We want to create a change," she said.

"We want organizations to look within themselves as to whether the organization is welcoming so that they can retain employees. And if you can … retain employees of one culture you will be able to retain employees of other cultures."

It's a vision shared by Rustum Southwell, the CEO of Black Business Consulting.

"The Diversity Employment Network will serve as a catalyst for the change that needs to happen, making diversity a priority for every workplace," he said in a news release.

Board-level change

For meaningful change to take place, Fashoranti said African Nova Scotians also have to be present in companies at decision-making levels.

She said while some companies speak about their commitment to diversity, their boards "have the same mix they had in the 1980s."

To enable change at the top of organizations, Fashoranti said the Diversity Employment Network and Black Business Consulting is partnering with Dalhousie University to train qualified people from the African Nova Scotian community in board governance. 

Fashoranti said once the network gets "into the fabric" of a company, it can provide metrics on how the culture of the organization is changing and provide a tangible measurement of progress. 

Rather than expecting minority hires to conform to an existing corporate culture, Fashoranti said companies should be embracing different perspectives and asking, "How do you make that work in a positive way for your organization?"

Employers and job seekers can contact the DIversity Employment Network through its website.

The two-year pilot project is being funded primarily by Invest Nova Scotia.

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.