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Improving health and wellness experiences for Black Employees in the Workplace: A Panel Discussion



In February, PMI Toronto and PMI Lakeshore Ontario jointly hosted a panel discussion in honour of Black History Month titled Navigating Health and Wellness in a Corporate Setting. During the event, panelists discussed the health and wellness of the emerging Black professional in corporate Canada in the presence of microaggressions and unconscious biases. The evening enriched our knowledge of anti-Black racism and provided resources, tips, and insights on how we can improve the health and wellness experience of Black employees in the corporate setting.

Meet our Moderator and Panelists

The event was moderated by Denley W. McIntosh, CEO of Renew IQ. Denley aims to provide leadership that engages and empowers management and staff. While leveraging his experience in cultural transformation, he shares best practices of people development (i.e., human resources) to develop an organization's culture and talent. He helps organizations, including ministries, envision creating safe spaces for staff and management who see the value of diversity, inclusion, and equity; and practice those values as a high-performing, inclusive and anti-racist organization.

The evening’s panelists included:

Michael J Thompson is the Vice President, Business Architecture, Innovation and Delivery, TD Bank Group. As VP of Business Architecture, Innovation, and Delivery in TD Insurance, Michael is responsible for end-to-end delivery functions (including the Project Management Office) for TD Insurance.

Jeff A.D. Martin is a motivational speaker and uses his platform to inspire people worldwide. Much of Jeff’s love for people can be attributed to his years of involvement as a community advocate, a mentor, and his 15+ years of experience in Law Enforcement. Jeff has worked as a police officer and in various investigative roles. He is a youth communication specialist with over 1000 forensic interviews with children.

Jodie Glean-Mitchell has dedicated her career to developing educational programming in the field of antiracism, equity, and inclusion. Jodie brings more than ten years of experience working in the field of antiracism, equity and inclusion and established REACT—Race, Equity, Advisory, Consulting and Training Inc. Jodie Glean-Mitchell currently serves as the Executive Director, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at University of Toronto.

Ted Paris serves as Vice President of Product, Strategy, and National Office for TD Direct Investing. In this role, he develops and articulates the Direct Investing strategy, continuously improves our client segmentation to drive customer-focused decision-making and works with partners across the business to deepen engagement with existing ones. He also heads the Wealth Black Experience Pillar.

Getting to Work to Better Black Employees’ experiences with health and wellness

The corporate environment is changing. It is more of an equal footing with Black professionals having more representation than in the past in regards to the corporate sector. Even though for centuries there have been advocates and activism for Black communities at the grassroots level, the presence of these activities is relatively new in the corporate environment. Thus, there is now a dire need to be able to talk about Black needs, Black mental health, and anti-Black racism more concretely in corporate Canada.

According to the panelists, we need to reconsider some practices within each workplace, primarily when we aim to provide support to Black employees. Racial microaggressions and unconscious biases are constant stings and barbs, and they negatively impact job satisfaction, self-esteem, mental health, and the physical health of Black professionals.

A great first step is establishing a support system for Black employees. This would allow a safe place to talk about race and the Black experience in the workplace. It includes the readiness of the workplace culture to develop and create the avenues and channels that will allow hearing from the Black employees about what is needed and recognize the principle of intersectionality just facing their racial identity. Organizations also need to think about how to best diversify the support systems that may already be in place.

The panelists spoke about employee resource groups (ERG). ERGs provide opportunities for organizations to invest in the continuous improvement enabling the Black community within the organization to develop their skills and further their careers. ERGs provide a chance to create more of a community within the corporate setting. When companies invest in ERGs, they provide an environment to establish more understanding, education, investment, and celebration throughout the organization.

ERGs are a functional, strategic tool for advancing diversity initiatives. However, establishing a successful employee resources group needs extensive groundwork. It needs to be engaging and functioning. It must be rooted in an organization's operations from recruitment to retirement. Companies need to ensure that the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion principles manifest themselves at all levels and all functions of their organization.

The panelists also discussed how Project Managers (PMs) can play an influential role in recognizing inequities and microaggressions and creating a safe space for Black employees. A PM has a significant role in creating an environment where the people on their project team can bring their best forward. A PM needs to figure out ways to make individuals feel comfortable speaking out and sharing their point of view. Also, it is beneficial for the project’s end goal; when everyone on the project team can bring their authentic self to work and engage thoughtfully the project is successful. Additionally, just having empathy is not enough; a PM must also act on behalf of empathy, providing support and ensuring they win this incredibly powerful role as a PM by speaking up and treating people on their team right. Finally, PMs must also ensure they share the same culture with the business owners within the project.

Lastly, to create a truly diverse and inclusive workspace, organizations must have clear pathways to offer support to Black employees to grow and thrive. They need to gather information about what is and is not working for Black professionals and implement them accordingly.

Concluding Thoughts

The discussion in honour of Black History Month opened up a space for everyone who took part—speaker or audience—to be heard, to learn from one another and to guide us all in taking action to implement needed changes in all our organizations and project teams together. Everyone must have the chance to feel secure and safe and this extends to the workplace. So how are you going to make a change?




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