Most Black Canadians feel their employers made progress addressing anti-Black racism last year — but they worry about what a recession could mean for those gains, a KPMG survey said.

The report found 90 per cent of the 1,001 Black Canadians surveyed in December and January said their employers made progress on efforts to be more equitable and inclusive for Black employees in 2022.

About 59 per cent of respondents said their employer's efforts to hire more Black people improved, while 54 per cent said efforts to promote more Black people into leadership roles was also better.

However, concerns about what an economic slowdown could mean for Black Canadians weighed on many of those surveyed.

The KPMG study found 73 per cent of respondents believe anti-Black racism efforts and broader diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives will be "put on the back burner" by their employer during an economic downturn.

Some 77 per cent were concerned that a recession will hurt the career and promotion prospects of their Black and racialized colleagues harder than others.

Studies have long found Black Canadians working in many sectors are less likely to receive promotions, reach executive ranks and garner mentorship or board seats, and more likely to experience discrimination, in the workplace.

But after the death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis killed in police custody during the COVID-19 pandemic, sparked global fury over systemic racism, there has been added pressure for companies to better diversify their organizations and rectify issues Black employees face as they seek employment and promotions.

Some companies took Floyd's death as a catalyst for change. They formalized diversity policies and looked more closely at the makeup of their workforce. 

But there is still room for improvement with many companies yet to act and others with further steps to take.

“While it’s encouraging to see Canadian organizations have continued to make progress on addressing anti-Black racism over the past year, it’s imperative to keep building on that momentum, even in the face of economic headwinds, labour market fluctuations and inflationary pressures,” said Elio Luongo, chief executive and senior partner of KPMG in Canada, in a news release.

While unemployment has been low for much of the pandemic, inflation has remained stubbornly high in the last year and some economists foresee a recession materializing.

As a result, companies have been hiking prices, being careful with hiring and in some cases, even resorting to layoffs. 

Luongo hopes these actions don't sideline diversity efforts.

"As a business community, we must not lose sight of what’s important – people,” he said.

His company's survey cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered truly random samples. 

Of the respondents KPMG surveyed, 52 per cent were male and 48 per cent female. Some 83 per cent worked full-time, 12 per cent worked part-time or on contract, and five per cent were self-employed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.