'Bold steps' encouraged for Londoners to tackle racism, promote diversity

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'Bold steps' encouraged for Londoners to tackle racism, promote diversity

A CBC Town Hall focused on increasing diversity and ending systemic discrimination generated frank talk and multiple solutions from a London, Ont., crowd Wednesday night.

Audience members were quick to lineup at the microphone to ask panelists questions and to add their voice to a conversation that challenged Londoners to think of bold steps to improve tolerance in the city. 

"I am making a commitment right now to call racism when I see it," said panelist and the city's newly appointed diversity and inclusion officer Saleha Khan. 

Khan said she regretted not doing anything in the past when someone told her to "go back to where she came from," and she challenged others to be outspoken when they hear or see discrimination. 

"It is hard to carry the burden alone," she said. "One bold step we can all take is to be allies." 

Diverse hiring matters

The conversation turned to hiring practices following an audience question about ways to better reflect London's growing cultural communities in the workplace. 

Panelist Harold Usher urged visible minorities, people with disabilities and anyone who does not feel represented to apply to jobs, boards and committees at city hall. 

Usher was the first visible minority ever elected to municipal politics in London in 2000. He said 17 years later there is only other person of colour serving on council, which he said is a poor reflection of the city's demographic makeup. 

Panelist and lawyer Susan Toth suggested employers cover names on resumes until after they've looked at credentials. 

"Hiring practices are flawed and some of it has to do with unconscious bias," Toth added.

Journalists play a role

Audience questions were varied but one hit home for CBC's Afternoon Drive host Bob Steele, the moderator of the townhall.

Citing the motto "you cannot be what you cannot see," first coined in a documentary about women in the workplace, an audience member asked what Londoners could do to get local media to print and broadcast stories showcasing "diversity in all its forms." 

Steele responded that CBC often talks about how to include diverse voices at daily story meetings and is committed to getting those voices on the air. 

Multiple journalism students from Western University were in the audience and Steele encouraged them to do the same when they enter the workforce. 

Keep talking #Boldsteps 

By the end of the 90-minute discussion, which also touched on London's role as a sanctuary city, police violence and whether London's leadership is serious about changing the culture at city hall, the panelists told the audience they hoped the conversation would continue.

"Every person in this room is from a diverse group," Khan said acknowledging that people must feel included to support change.

"Let's make this conversation about everyone."