On March 10, UTSC hosted a panel of Black women in high-level business positions to discuss the importance of Black representation in business and address questions about white privilege. “Celebrating Leaders, Black Women in Business” was organized as part of U of T’s Entrepreneurship Week, which saw various business-related events take place from March 8–11. 

The panel included Naki Osutei, Associate Vice-President of the Social Impact for the Global Corporate Citizenship department at TD Bank; Fennella Bruce, a founder of FKB Media Solutions and a veteran news producer; and Daphne Magna, a founder of Tough Convos, a safe space for people to learn about the Black community and anti-Black racism.

The Hub at UTSC — the campus’ startup incubator — hosted the panel with support from sponsors, including the BRIDGE — an academic space created by the UTSC Department of Management — and the UTSC Library. Sarah Shujah, a UTSC liaison librarian and entrepreneurship librarian, moderated the panel.

Diversity in corporations

During the event, a member of the audience asked panellists for their thoughts on programs that only hire racialized people, how successful these programs are, and why these initiatives often receive backlash.

Osutei emphasized that people who “operate with a scarcity mindset” will always complain about these programs. “It’s important for companies who embark on that to be unapologetic in that position,” she said. “We are doing this because we are correcting an injustice that has been perpetuated for hundreds of years, and it’s going to take a long time for us to correct it.”

Bruce recounted a personal experience from a time when she competed for the same position as a white man. “He flatly said to me, ‘You’re probably going to get it because you tick both boxes — you’re Black, and you’re a woman,’ ” she shared. “Not that I can write, not that I have a journalism grade, [and] not that I was highly skilled for this position.”

She elaborated that these initiatives wouldn’t be able to correct systemic oppression immediately. “Now, everybody wants to hire somebody Black,” she said. “It’s going to take a process because for a lot of different areas… racialized people have left those industries because they were so oppressed.”

Magna said that she strongly believes such initiatives need to be considered in context. She explained that power dynamics are different everywhere, and understanding them is crucial to create solutions that work.

The panellists also addressed questions about white privilege. They shared that people often claim not to be in a position of privilege because they aren’t rich but that this attitude is the result of a lack of understanding or ignorance.

“We’re talking about another privilege: it’s the privilege of not being racially profiled. It’s the privilege of not having to talk to your son about what he does late at night,” Magna said. “It’s a whole other set of privileges that are specific to being a particular shade.” 

Osutei explained why some people are afraid of diversity and inclusion, and why this, too, can be attributed to the scarcity mindset. “If you have lived with privilege, when you start to see equity happening for others, it feels like you are now being oppressed,” she said. “So it’s easy for someone who has that mindset to then tokenize people when we are trying to address the inequity.”

Words of encouragement

The panel ended with advice from each panellist. All of them highlighted the importance of believing in yourself.

Magna highlighted her belief that lifelong learning is essential to success. “You really have to step outside of what the typical education system can do for you and… go get your hands dirty,” she said. “Your education and your growth as an individual shouldn’t have a timeframe and doesn’t have to fit somebody else’s schedule.”

Osutei acknowledged that, for many young people, underrepresentation in their field could be a defining reason why they decide not to pursue something they are passionate about. But she encouraged everyone not to give up on their dreams. “If you are passionate about something, and you have the capacity for it, but you don’t see anybody there — it might be you that people need to see,” she said.

Bruce closed with another piece of advice: avoid being demoralized by criticism. “I want to tell my younger self to believe in myself and not be swayed by other people,” she said. “[If] you’re solid in what you’re trying to pursue, go for it… go all the way forward, and don’t let someone else shoot you down.”

Disclaimer: Anastasiya Gordiychuk will serve as Scarborough Campus Students’ Union director of arts, culture & media for the 2021–2022 academic year.