Cultural CritiquesImage of Kike Ojo-Thompson standing with arms crossed in a dark orange jumpsuit. Text reads: On the Blog, Lessons from the Globe and Mail's Black North Initiative Survey.

The Black North Initiative was founded in July 2020 at the peak of Black Lives Matter Protests. Almost 500 companies signed the pledge to address systemic racism within their organizations. The Black North Initiative called on these companies to prioritize critical metrics, including Black representation on their boards and in executive roles and investing more of their corporate donations to organizations that support the Black community.

More than two years after the Initiative began, the Globe and Mail conducted a survey to review the progress the committed companies had made. Results from the survey showed that 70% of the companies who signed on either did not respond to the survey or responded that they had not tracked the relevant data.

As our founder, Kike Ojo-Thompson noted in her interview with the Globe, “I think it’s safe to say that allow response rate correlates to the slow amount of change that is happening.”

The lack of progress is unsurprising. In one of our recent posts, we explored how failure to properly prepare for equity work often means that commitments are rarely followed by the meaningful action required to produce change. But organizational readiness is not the only barrier to success in equity. Here are some key equity lessons from the Globe and Mail’s survey.

Nothing changes without a culture shift

Management expert, Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In our work as equity consultants, we have found this to be especially true. This is why organizational culture change is a key component of our work to guide clients towards more equitable outcomes.

An equity strategy—no matter how comprehensive or thoughtful it is—cannot produce more equitable outcomes if the organization’s culture does not prioritize and value equity. Without an equity-focused culture, any policies, initiatives, or programs meant to improve the experiences of equity-deserving staff or service users will not be effective.

Organizations who want to follow through on their equity commitments must be prepared to examine their existing cultures and identify the ways that culture supports or inhibits inequity. Then, and most importantly, the leaders must be willing to shift that culture.

Leaders must be prepared to fight for equity

An organizational culture shift is not an easy undertaking. Cultures are engrained. They are held up not only by policies and practices of an organization, but by the beliefs and attitudes of both leadership and staff. To shift their culture, leaders must be willing to be critical of everything they consider ‘normal’ inside their organization.

They must also accept that inequity is happening, even if they cannot see it. Good leaders believe in their organizations, but that confidence must not cloud your ability to acknowledge when there is room for improvement. As we tell all of our clients, there are no neutral spaces. Even the most well-intentioned leaders in the most progressive organizations must be prepared to acknowledge and confront inequity in their cultures.


And that work is difficult. Leaders who want to see their equity commitments produce results must understand that they will have to do difficult and uncomfortable work. That might include challenging long-standing norms and practices; disciplining (or removing) those who obstruct equity work; or dedicating significant financial and human resources to achieving equity goals.

Data isn’t optional; it’s essential

One element of the Black North Initiative pledge was a commitment to increase Black board members, executives, and student hires. However, a large number of the companies who signed on were unable to complete the survey because they had not been collecting the data needed to track their progress.

This pitfall is not unique to the Black North Initiative companies. The failure to collect data, especially data disaggregated by identity, is a common issue amongst organizations. It is also one of the greatest barriers to creating successful equity strategies and initiatives.

Without disaggregated identity data, you cannot recognize disparities and disproportionalities in hiring, promotion, discipline, or termination. You are also unable to determine which groups are having positive or negative experiences. That kind of data is what should be informing the strategies and policies you implement. Additionally, that consistently collecting and reviewing that data, ensures you are able to measure whether the equity work you do is producing the desired results.

If we want to create more equitable organizations, collecting, reviewing, and using disaggregated identity data is a mandatory step.


We believe that the organizations who signed on to the Black North Initiative had positive intentions. However, we know that intention is not enough. The Globe and Mail’s survey results show us that equity work is exactly that—work. While it may be inspired by feelings of hope, it is fuelled by a genuine and ongoing commitment to fostering an equitable culture, practicing equity-informed leadership, and using data to inform equity plans.

Is your organization having difficulty transforming equity commitments into equitable outcomes? Do you need support applying these equity lessons? Get in touch.