She Leads: Diversity and Inclusion

Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi: 00:01 Hello and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World. Where in 15 minutes, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it.

My name is Lama Alsafi host of this podcast. In the world’s poorest communities, women and girls bear the brunt of poverty. At CARE we believe in bringing people together to end inequality. That’s why we’re making the month of March for women. As part of our #March4Women podcast series, we’ll be talking to four different women across industries with different areas of expertise, to learn more about the challenges being faced by women around the world and what you, our listeners can do to make a difference.

In this episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World, we’re speaking with Hadiya Roderique lawyer, writer and advocate. In 2017 her essay Black on Bay Street, which discussed the hurdles and isolation she faced as a black woman interviewing and working for Bay Street law firms went viral and sparked discussions across Canada on inclusion and diversity. Hadiya continues to advocate for inclusion and diversity in the workplace and challenges systems to support a more inclusive workplace and society.

Hadiya joins us remotely from Toronto. Welcome Hadiya and thank you so much for chatting with us today.

Hadiya Roderique: 01:47 Hi, thanks for having me.

Lama Alsafi: 01:48 So excited to speak with you. I’m a big fan. I’ve been following your work for a while, so thank you so much for giving us your time.

Hadiya Roderique: 01:55 Aw, thanks that’s always nice to hear.

Lama Alsafi: 01:58 Well, we’d love to hear a bit more about your background and what led you to a career in law and specifically to Bay Street law firms.

Hadiya Roderique: 02:05

So I have a background in neuroscience, actually my undergrad is in neuroscience. Essentially I did psychology, applied to some psychology PhD programs, but then decided I wasn’t as passionate about it as everyone else that I met along the way. So I decided to work for a few years to sort of figure out what I wanted to do next and and just wrote the LSAT’s on a whim. The MCAT’s seemed like it was going to be too much work. So I went to the guidance counselors office just to try the LSAT’s to see how I would do on it. Did pretty well the first time I did it. So ended up writing that and applying to law school and I’m the daughter of two immigrants. And for those of you with immigrant parents, you know, you get the, the lecture about uh, you know, I moved here, to give you better. With the expectation that you’re going to become this, lawyer or doctor or an engineer.

So I chose lawyer and then went to law school at U of T. It was just sort of the thing you did was applied to the top firms cause it was a very easy process. You submit your resume. I remember dressing up in a suit in August and going around and handing out my resume to different firms. Now it’s, it’s all electronic now. And then you would have these sort of speed dating interviews at the convention center. They were about 20 minutes long and then you would make it for some firms to an infirm interview process. I chose the Bay Street firm just because I wasn’t really sure what kind of law I wanted to do and that had more exposure to a variety of law rather than trying to narrow down into a small more boutique practice. And then that’s how I ended up on Bay Street.

Lama Alsafi: 03:44 What inspired you to write your experiences and share them with the world in Black on Bay Street?

Hadiya Roderique: 03:51 So I left when I was a third year associate and went back to school and I was in the common room at Massey College, which is sort of like a intellectual gathering space for grad students at U of T and I was hearing some of the second year law students talk about their experiences with the interview process and it didn’t seem like much had changed in the intervening nine or ten years. They were describing very similar things and I thought it was quite ridiculous that the process had not evolved since I’d gone through it.

And I was also a fellow of the walrus at the time. And we were talking about hiring processes and I told them about the Bay Street hiring process and they all kind of like looked at me like I had two heads and you know, you didn’t get asked any questions about the law and like, ya know, then I decided that I was going to write a story about Bay Street hiring. It wasn’t supposed to be a memoir. It was supposed to be, to sort of like an examination of the process with a bit of me in there. But, um, I interviewed a range of other people other than myself, interviewed people who were involved in the hiring process and people who’ve gone through the hiring process recently. Um, but then it just morphed into this memoir.

Lama Alsafi: 05:06 So it must’ve been some of the challenges that you faced and maybe the challenges that you were hearing about when you were getting together with others. So is it, is it challenges of women of colour or women or minorities in general?

Hadiya Roderique: 05:17 Yeah, I mean I think I mostly just wanted to be open about what it felt like to be me at this period in time. And I think that my experience illustrates some of the major biases that you see, um, women and people of colour experience. And so one of those with the, um, the fact that women and people of colour and other people, you know, people with disabilities, um, are what are called prove it again, groups where their competence is not assumed the way that majority men’s competence is. And they always have to sort of repeatedly prove themselves or meet a higher bar to get the same reward. Another one that you see is the tight rope where there’s a narrow range of acceptable behavior. So for example, men can express anger in the workplace in a much different way than women can. And especially black women. Cause if we get angry, we get seen as the angry black woman.

Lama Alsafi: 06:19 Well, how does that work? for a lawyer who’s meant to be a passionate advocate for someone or something. Um, and then this, you know, this dichotomy of being seen as aggressive. You’re a woman of colour and you’re asserting yourself. How does that work?

Hadiya Roderique: 06:34 There is research that says that women get pushback when they negotiate for themselves. They get less pushback when they negotiate for others. Um, but there’s a reason why a lot of women don’t, you know, negotiate their salaries or um, get seen in a certain way if they end up for themselves, really. I’m sure that every female lawyer I know could give you some story about how their behavior was seen differently because they are a woman and the same behavior in their male colleague was seen as totally fine. Every woman lawyer I know has not just one, but several of those stories

Lama Alsafi: 07:09 Are these some of the things that that led you to, to take another path and move away from Bay Street.

Hadiya Roderique: 07:15 And I think part of it was I just didn’t feel comfortable where I was and it didn’t feel like it was the end game for me and I wanted to, I just wanted to do something different and be something different. And when I looked up at the people who were, you know, 10-20 years, my senior, I didn’t want their lives. I remember we had a mental health professional, a doctor from CAMH I believe, come in to talk to us about mental health. And I remember him saying one of the most important things you could do for your children is to have dinner with them. And half the room laughed out loud. I just didn’t want that life.

Lama Alsafi: 07:55 What do you think is needed to build equity and equality in workplaces in Canada?

Hadiya Roderique: 08:01 Well, you need to get rid of racism generally in our society and that’s going to be a real uphill battle because I think the workplace is just a reflection of our, our broader society. I think that particularly for workplaces, I don’t think that the moral argument has been helping, I don’t think the business argument has been helping, but I think that we have to see it as an issue of talent and who we see as talented and that right now certain people are the ones who are classified as talented and others aren’t. And statistically that’s just impossible. So you take the avenue of law, you know, a lot of major law firms, you look at their upper echelon, they have 80% – 90% men, 20% women, and graduation rates from law school both here and in the United States have been 50/50 for, you know, over 20 years. For you to believe that that actually represents the most talented people coming out of law school means that you believe that men are more intelligent than women.

That’s the only way that you could see that ratio and think that it is accurate, which is not born out by university. Graduation rates for women graduate actually higher rates than men by representation on the Dean’s list and where women are often more highly represented than men. We don’t treat people like they’re equally talented or competent. You know, one of the resume studies that that sent out resonates with black names and white names found that if you are a black person, you had to have eight years more experience on your resume to be seen as equal to a white individual in terms of your callback rate. You know, we’ll know that we’ve made it when people of color can be just as mediocre as everybody else and you don’t have to be the superstar just to make it. Um, but right now we don’t see everybody as having the same potential talent.

Lama Alsafi: 09:55 Hadiya did you expect your essay to strike such a chord with Canadians and elicit such a big response across the country?

Hadiya Roderique: 10:02 Oh God. I think when I wrote it, I tweeted, “I wrote a thing” and then put the link and then turned my phone off and muted my phone cause I was supposed to be on a social media cleanse for a piece I was writing and then my phone just started vibrating because someone was following me on Twitter like every five seconds. And my friends were texting me pictures of the cover, I didn’t know that it was going to be on the cover. I went to the, to the convenience store and the gentleman there looked down and looked at me and he’s like you. I was like, yeah it’s me. And I had no idea. I got 200 emails on how much the piece resonated and it wasn’t just from people of colour, I got emails from white men now telling me that they didn’t feel like they fit in, especially, um, with class barriers on, on Bay Street. Yeah. I really had no idea. I didn’t think I was doing anything radical, shocking or anything. I didn’t think I was saying anything that people didn’t already know. So yeah, I was just kind of blown away by the reaction. It’s still like the gift that keeps on giving. I still, I still get recognized I still get emails, I still, people still talk about it. Yeah. No, it’s just been, it’s been a remarkable response and I’m very grateful and glad that I could bear myself that other people didn’t have to be vulnerable to talk about these issues

Lama Alsafi: 11:29 Alright Hadiya. How can someone who is listening at home right now or in their car take action? They’re, inspired by your words. They’re listening to what you’re saying. What are some tangible things that they can do to make a difference, challenge systems and promote a society of inclusion?

Hadiya Roderique: 11:44 Yeah, i’d say there’s two main things I want people to focus on. Um, first is, you know, pushing the organization to change their policies, you know, asking them and why don’t we use anonymized resumes or even volunteering to sit on some of the hiring committees or the committees that might restructure, um, these kinds of programs or these kinds of processes. And you know, reading some of the literature out there, I’m getting a sense of the barriers that people face and then talking to your, sort of, your HR reps and your managers about, you know, how can we change the processes we use, um, for the better. And often that means you coming up with some of these ideas to change your prophecies for the better because you know, people are overworked and stressed and managers especially. And um, if you can alleviate that burden and sort of give them some ideas, it makes it a lot easier for them to change.

And then being an ally, especially speaking to my, white friends, you know, when you see injustice, when you see racism, when you see someone as being treated differently, don’t just stand by and let it happen, say something about it because your words will actually be quite powerful. So if I, someone says something racist or insensitive, and I speak up that I’m seen as the angry black woman I’m seen as being invested, the person immediately gets defensive. But if their white coworker says, Hey, that’s not okay, that usually carries more power cause it doesn’t have skin in the game to say they’re not the one who was insulted by the racist remark, but they’re just approval can carry thus a lot more weight calling things out, not letting them slide, making sure that it’s a culture where those things are not acceptable.

Lama Alsafi: 13:31 Well, Hadiya, I have to say, um, I think you’re such an inspiration. I’m so happy to have the chance to speak with you today and I really thank you for giving us your time and speaking with us.

Hadiya Roderique: 13:43 I’m happy to do so.

Lama Alsafi: 13:44 And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. Stay tuned to our most recent episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World on Spotify and iTunes.