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‘Work to do’ on corporate level race equity

Shadow Minister of Workforce Development Rolf Commisssiong speaks during an interview yesterday. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

Opposition MP Rolfe Commissiong has said an open and honest conversation about race is needed at the corporate level in Bermuda.

While progress has been made to achieve racial equality and equity, the Progressive Labour Party politician said “we still have a lot of work to do”.

“Barriers have been broken down,” Mr Commissiong said. “But the task is not over in terms of achieving real equality and, even more importantly, equity, for black Bermudians, not only politically but within the workplace as well.”

Mr Commissiong, the Shadow Minister of Human Affairs, pointed to a discussion hosted last month by Bob Moritz, the chairman and senior partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in the US, about “the need — at a corporate level — to have an honest, open conversation on race, not to treat it as taboo, and to view that conversation as being a tool by which you can create a healthier, more diverse working environment”.

He said this stood in contrast to a PwC Bermuda report, that called for greater gender diversity but “was silent on the need for greater racial diversity”.

“What I thought fascinating is that the same arguments that were made in the PwC report, which basically called for greater gender diversity, could be made in favour of racial diversity,” Mr Commissiong said.

While he sees nothing wrong with encouraging gender diversity, he added that “we also have to ensure that racial equity is part of this as well — especially in a country where at least 60 per cent of the workforce is comprised of black Bermudians and/or persons of colour”.

“Certainly we have black Bermudians who have done very well within the corporate world in Bermuda, but we want to see a corporate world that looks like Bermuda and we are not there yet.”

In a motion in the House of Assembly in June, Mr Commissiong said workforce equity and diversity goals have “been an issue that has continued to bedevil us and it remains one that we must address without fear or favour if we are to finally begin to create a Bermuda that provides social and racial justice for our people”.

His views on the subject also align with the PLP’s 2025 Vision, which speaks of “the need to build a society that is fairer and more equitable”.

While urging the Bermuda Government to take note of technological advances that are impacting the Island’s workplaces and economy, Mr Commissiong suggested that a Government-wide task force to deal with these impending structural challenges, should also be charged “with the responsibility for the formulation of a policy and legislative agenda with respect to the attainment of “workforce equity” and/or diversity goals and objectives with respect to employment in Bermuda”.

According to Mr Commissiong, the issue of racial diversity in Bermuda’s offshore international business sector, for example, is “just as acute, or even more so, as calls for gender diversity”. He added that the lack of diversity is particularly pronounced in the tech industry, where “gender and racial diversity has not really taken root”.

But Mr Commissiong added that the Western corporate world is “increasingly getting it”.

“The corporate world, particularly in the West, is cognisant of the fact that no form of prejudice and discrimination can be allowed to exist in a corporate environment that harms the advancement of those persons who may be considered as part of a marginal group from succeeding.”

He added in his House motion: “If Intel gets it, as it did in January of this year by allocating $300 million to facilitate a more diverse and inclusive workplace for blacks, Latinos and women in the tech industry, which is overwhelmingly dominated by white and Asian males, then why should we continue to run from this issue in Bermuda?”