A screenshot from the event hosted on Zoom. From left to right, top down: Ana Maria Peredo (University of Victoria), Aminah Najarali (Sprott Business Students' Society), Alexa Camick (Sprott Business Students' Society), Hari Bapuji (University of Melbourne), Frances Henry (York University).

The Sprott School of Business and SBSS co-hosted, “White, Privilege and Business?” on January 12, 2021. From left to right, top down: Ana Maria Peredo (University of Victoria), Aminah Najarali (Sprott Business Students’ Society), Alexa Camick (Sprott Business Students’ Society), Hari Bapuji (University of Melbourne), Frances Henry (York University).

On January 12, Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business hosted the second event of its Equity and Inclusive Communities (EIC) series – White, Privilege and Business? – to discuss white privilege, and the nuances of how it affects individuals and society at large.

Organized in partnership with the Sprott Business Students’ Society (SBSS), the series fosters conversations to break down barriers to inclusion and equity.

A follow up to the How to Be a Better Ally workshop from the fall, this event featured three experts drawing upon their research to discuss white privilege with the attendees:

  • Hari Bapuji, a professor of strategic management and international business at the University of Melbourne whose research examines how economic inequality in the society affects businesses, and vice versa;
  • Frances Henry, a professor emerita at York University in Toronto and one of Canada’s leading experts in the study of racism and anti-racism; and
  • Ana Maria Peredo, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Victoria, who explores alternative economies and their impact on the social and environmental aspects of community served as the moderator.

“I think it’s very important for every one of us in this country and everywhere in the world to understand what ‘whiteness’ means in modern society and to understand what white privilege means,” Frances said.

Frances Henry

Frances Henry is a professor emerita at York University and a leading expert in Canada on racism and anti-racism.

She went on to explain that at its essence white privilege isn’t affluence, but it is something that puts white people at an advantage in everything they attempt. She further added that white people are inherently taught not to recognize this privilege in the same way men are taught not to realize their privilege over other genders.

“White privilege is that hidden, undescribed, and often unconscious sense of being able to live and experience life without harassment or discrimination because of race, colour of skin, gender, disability etc.,” she said. “White privilege does not assume that everything a white person does is unearned or unmerited, but rather that it is a built-in advantage in what they do is assumed to be normal.”

It’s also not a far leap for this privilege to turn into supremacy, and for that to turn into overt racism.

Frances also discussed unconscious biases and systemic racism to help attendees realize that racism isn’t always overt or explicit.

She explained that a result of people’s experiences growing up, learning and living life, unconscious biases are a part of everyone’s thinking, but not necessarily their actions.

As for systemic racism, she said:

“Individual racism is easier to handle, unpleasant as it may be, but systemic racism – that is the policies and ideas and ideologies which are found in systems; the justice system, the education system, in employment systems etc. – these are sometimes hidden and not even known to us. These are the ways in which these various forms of racism are maintained.”

Hari said that even if one just looked at systemic racism from a financial point of view, research shows that inequalities impact entrepreneurship, growth and innovation in organizations. And various inequalities in society do have a negative impact on organizations in terms of how they affect employees’ attitudes within. Therefore, organizations that have diversity among their leadership are more successful than ones that don’t.

He cited a report by Citigroup which studied racial inequalities in the United States and found that if you eliminate inequalities – such as wages, access to housing etc. – for Black people, it will roughly add $1 trillion annually to the American GDP.

On the other hand, Hari did say that white privilege and racism are more complicated topics than a lot of people realize. He said that this privilege isn’t a question of skin colour alone; everyone who is white doesn’t have the same privileges that other white people do. It’s necessary to see that privilege can vary from person to person, and it’s perhaps not the right decision to paint everyone with the same brush.

He also said that while it’s easy to unconsciously assume that everyone who is not white is disadvantaged, that’s not true either – and it’s important to remember that racism and privilege exist across the world. Privilege also isn’t always based on visible markers, instead, rather often, is a result of invisible inequalities and systemic realities, such as wealth, religion or lineage.

Hari added that the fact that this discussion is being held at a business school is rather remarkable as well.

“I was very pleased to see is that this discussion is taking place in a business school. Just 10 years ago, in fact even less than 10 years ago, this would not have been possible. It would have been seen as not a concern for businesses.”

Rick Colbourne

Rick Colbourne, Sprott Assistant Dean, Equity and Inclusive Communities

Agreeing with Hari, Rick Colbourne – Sprott’s assistant dean of equity and inclusive communities – said that challenging the central tenets of business, arguing about meritocracy, or even opening access to opportunities that combat systemic racism, would have been extremely difficult in a business school a few years ago.

“It is important for Sprott to take the lead on this because we want our students to be empathetic and aware of how hidden dynamics of power impact and marginalize BIPOC communities,” said Rick.

“We need our students to understand that the effects of white privilege means having greater access to power, wealth and resources than people of colour do in the same situation. And that the ability to accumulate wealth is a privilege enabled by overt systemic racism across different sectors in society and how this all plays into unconscious biases.”

Aminah Najarali

Aminah Najarali – the director of equity and inclusion for SBSS – said that Sprott and SBSS will host more events this term to continue this dialogue on equity, diversity and inclusion.

Aminah Najarali, Bachelor of International Business student and the director of equity and inclusion for SBSS, agrees.

“As business professionals, we will encounter many obstacles in our careers, and for minorities and people of colour, these obstacles tend to be heightened by systemic factors rooted in discrimination,” said Aminah. “I believe it’s our responsibility to talk about ways to mitigate these effects and hopefully create a better environment for our students, and for future generations.

“Change starts at home, and I want Sprott to be a part of that change.”

The Sprott School of Business and SBSS plan to host more events this term to continue this dialogue on equity, diversity and inclusion. Everyone is welcome.

Follow Sprott on social media to keep informed of upcoming events.

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Friday, January 22, 2021 in
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