DND/CAF Black History Month national event

On February 6, 2023, Defence Team members gathered in person at National Defence Headquarters (Carling Campus) and online for the first-ever DND/CAF Black History Month national event. The event featured remarks from the Honourable Minister of National Defence Anita Anand, Deputy Minister Bill Matthews, and General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff, as well as representatives from the Defence Visible Minority Advisory Group (only accessible on DWAN) and the Defence Team Black Employee Network (only accessible on DWAN).

The focus of the event was the panel discussion, moderated by Commodore Jacques Olivier, where four individuals from the public service, the CAF and the private sector shared their personal experiences with racism and their thoughts on how to foster culture change in the workplace. The panel featured Deputy Minister Caroline Xavier, Chief of the Communications Security Establishment, Master Warrant Officer Gareth Webb, Executive Assistant to Sergeant Major of the Chief, Professional Conduct and Culture, Major (ret’d) Austin Douglas, Senior Manager, General Dynamics Mission Systems—Canada, and Debra Christmas, Executive Partner at Gartner Canada. Watch the recording of this event below:

Part 1

Video / March 17, 2023


(RMT) Deputy Minister Bill Matthews, General Eyre, General Carignan, general officers, Associate Deputy Minister Beck, the team.Defence Colleagues and friends. Thank you for joining us here today in person at the Carling complex, or virtually. I am Lieutenant-Colonel Martell Thompson and I am the commander of the Public Affairs Branch. I have the pleasure of being your master of ceremonies today. For those among you who are joining us from base in thesc regions, we are glad to have you here with us, even if it is virtually. Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge that the land on which we gather is a traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg people.

I recognize that you may be watching today's discussion from a different location, from a different traditional Indigenous territory. I encourage you to take a moment to learn about Indigenous people and the territory you reside in and work from. So, we have a great event planned for you over the next hour to recognize, celebrate black history, have honest, safe conversation, it's okay to be uncomfortable. Sometimes this topic can be a little uncomfortable.

That's a good thing.

That's the blessing in being here today, gathered with a defence family.

I do want to mention that deputy minister and the CDS may have to excuse themselves towards the end of the panel to attend an already planned important meeting.

God knows where we will be, from a discussion standpoint, at that point in time.

Please understand that this discussion is important to them.

If they could stay, they would stay. We have a full program, so let’s get started. I have the honour of starting our program by introducing the Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Anita Anand, who took the time to join us virtually today from West Block, where she is working in the House. Minister.

(SM) Hello! Thank you so much for that introduction.

And I just wanted to take a moment to be here with you to honour and celebrate black history month. It is a true pleasure to actually be able to be with you, even though I am virtual, from the House of Commons, here, right now.

I want to start by thanking our many black Canadian armed forces and defence team members for your dedication to the defence team.

I recognize your contribution, and I thank you for your service.

Whether in uniform or as civilians, you are absolutely paramount to our institution's success. And for all of us, no matter our background, black history month is a moment to pause, it's a moment to reflect, and it's a moment to recognize what that service has brought to our country.

Le mois de l'histoire des Noirs est une célébration culturelle, mais c'est aussi une occasion d'en apprendre davantage sur les expériences vécues des Canadiens noirs.

I want to take a moment and just offer some personal reflections. When I walk into a room, I look at all the faces in the room, and I notice whether there are faces like mine.

And for far too long, for black Canadians and for black members of the Canadian Armed Forces and defence team, our ranks have not been representative of the diversity of our country.

And I, as minister, see it as my priority to ensure, at the very least, that when we have diverse members of the defence team, they can put on their uniform, they can come to work, knowing that they will be honoured and respected, and protected every single day.

I will say that, from my own perspective, when I ran for public office, many people told me that I would never be elected as a visible minority women.

Now, that is something that has stuck with me. Certainly, it gave me the motivation to continue.

But we all have an obligation to lift each other up, not to talk each other down, not to underestimate the achievements that we can make, and certainly in terms of black history month, I like to take this moment to emphasize how important it is to support our colleagues and the broader Canadian public, many of whom are diverse.

To encourage them to reach their goals, to strive to reach their goals.

Because what message does it send to our young people if we are not willing to stand behind diverse members of our community, black members of our armed forces, when they are seeking simply to participate in an institution where all members should feel respected and protected?

I wanted to also mention that one of the greatest joys of my time as minister has been on July 9th of 2022, last year, in Nova Scotia, when we paid tribute and apologized to members of the No. 2 construction battalion and their families, and thanked them for their service to Canada, despite the fact that they were refused entry to participate alongside other Canadian armed forces members because of the colour of their skin.

That's reprehensible and it should never happen again. So, offering that apology last July was a chance for me to say the following, that discrimination is despicable, it should never happen, and we need to create an institution where it is simply unacceptable.

I would like to thank the defensive visible minority advisory group for your tremendous advice and leadership in speaking about some of the values that I am discussing today.

I don't select to recognize Commodore Jacques Olivier, the newly appointed defence team champion for visible minorities. Commodore Olivier has been an exemplary leader in our community.

I know he will be an excellent champion for the visible minority community across our defence team.

Bien que nous ayons fait du progrès, il reste encore beaucoup de travail à faire.

There is so much work to do. So much road to travel, to ensure that we break down the barriers of systemic discrimination.

As the Minister of National Defence, I want to assure all of you that you belong. You do not just belong at the table, the table needs your leadership, we need you.

This black history month, I encourage all members of the Canadian Armed Forces and our defence community to reflect, to honour, and to cherish the contributions of our black Canadian members.

By creating and sustaining dialogue, we can have what is necessary, and that is open, honest, and constructive conversations that will help us ensure meaningful culture change.

And events like this one today are a great step forward in this process. Finally, I would like to say, yes, February's black history month, but it is actually every day of every month of every year that we have to commit to ensuring that we are building an environment and an institution free from discrimination and one that is equal, and open, and respectful for all members, regardless of the colour of their skin.

So with that, thank you very much and have a good day everyone.

(RMT) Thank you, Madam Minister.

I'm now pleased to introduce the two national co-chairs of the defence visible minority advisory group.

National military co-chair chief warrant officer, Suzanne McAdam, and national civilian co-chair, Denise Moore.

(SM) Good afternoon, everyone.

Hello, everyone.

Part 2

Video / March 17, 2023


(RMT) Thank you, sir.

The CDS.

(WE) Thanks, Bill.

Thanks, Martell.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Hello everyone.

It is great to see everybody here.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of today's event celebrating Black History Month.

I would like, in turn, to thank you for being here, whether here physically in the room or out there in the virtual world dialling in. So, your presence at this event demonstrates a real desire and a commitment to make a difference, to be part of a greater departmental wide effort to be more diverse and more inclusive.

We serve best when we reflect those whom we serve.

We live in a dangerous world. We’re going through trying times. With the challenges of the future, our success and survival require us to recruit and retain individuals who aspire to become the best and brightest at a time when the competition is more intense than ever. We need to ensure that the hard work, sacrifices, and dedication that our members in uniform give to our armed forces are matched by the quality a military career offers them in return.

Everyone who wears the uniform is entitled to come to work every day to a workplace that appreciates their individuality and supports them as they apply their talents, knowledge, perspectives, and life experiences to the greater success of the defence team as a whole.

In our purpose, serving Canada and Canadians, we are all alike. It is a collection of unique individuals that we best achieve this purpose. Today is a chance for us all to listen and to learn. In particular, those of us who have not had the lived experience of our black colleagues. To recognize the accomplishments of the black members of the defence team, and to thank them for their service and their commitment to our country.

To try and understand the challenges that they face, the past harms that they have experienced due to racial discrimination; to try and understand how people who have not faced these challenges every day can help bring down systemic barriers that affect those who are confronted by them.

And I encourage every member of the defence team to get involved and to be an ally, and to celebrate our diversity. And we do this today, it has been mentioned a number of times, we should be doing it every day. So, I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in setting up today's event.

Everyone across the country, on every ship, base, wing, and deployment, and among our civilian colleagues, who are striving to make the Canadian armed forces and the Department of National Defence a better place, more representative of the citizens that we are sworn to protect each and every day.

So, I recognize and appreciate your work and dedication. Jacques, I will just add my word or my thanks to you taking on this role as champion.

Because of our diversity, it's a source of our strength, the root of our success, and the best hope for our future, we will continue to move forward.

Thank you.

(RMT) Thank you, sir.

I'm now pleased to introduce the civilian and military co-chairs, the defence team black employees network, Major Chris Stobbs, Miss Faduno Ali.

(CS) Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, first, I need to admit that I am most excited to hear from Major Retired Austin Douglas today.

I spent a good part of my career seeing this man in uniform on posters. He has definitely set the standard of looking good on a poster. The DTBEN is a network that is dedicated to the well-being of black civilian and military members of the Defence Team. We are working with senior leadership, functional authorities, and Defence consultation groups to contribute to the elimination of racism and discrimination in the Department and the Canadian Armed Forces.

Recent accomplishments include recognition of Black History Month as an official event and laying a wreath on behalf of past and present CAF members during Remembrance Day.

For those interested in joining the group or have any questions, feel free to reach out.

Lastly, I'd like to share a quote from Malcolm X. Don't be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn't do what you do, or think as you think, or as fast. There was a time when you didn't know what you know today.

Have patience in each other as we share our stories.

At the end of the day, we all have the same objective: to make the Defence Team an inclusive organization for everyone regardless of the colour of our skin. Thank you.

(FA) Hello, everyone.

Today I stand before you tall and proud.

It is our honour to celebrate black history month.

This month serves as a reminder of the countless contributions made by individuals, the black individuals of this department. Today is extra special for us, it is the first commemorative black history month event within this organization. That means that is huge, that is huge for us.

It has been a long journey, but one that we are very proud of.

I come from a time at DND where we would be asked to not cook our curries and our spices during the week to accommodate our colleagues and shield them from the smells of our traditions. So, believe me when I say, we have come a long way. I am so incredibly proud of DVMAG.

In a short period of time we have accomplished so much, and a lot of you are thanking commodore Jacques Olivier, he has done tremendous, tremendous work for us, he has helped us get to the next level, and he has shown us what true leadership is.

So, thank you, we thank you, Commodore. To capture this moment, I would like to take a moment to speak in the civility of Somali poetry. In the words of Ifrah Mansour, a Somali poet, my language is an international bridge.

My culture is a blanket from the elements of bigotry. My religion is a pillow for my compassion. My history is a lullaby for tales not to be repeated. I challenge humanity, and I challenge all of you to do better, to be better, and to challenge the status quo.

Thank you.

(RMT) Well said by both of you.

I now have the pleasure of inviting today’s roundtable participants to join us. I will introduce them individually as they come and take their places. So, with us today, we ask you to raise your hand, we have the minister, Caroline Xavier, Chief of the Communications Security Establishment.

We have Master Warrant Officer Gareth Webb, Executive Assistant to Sergeant Major of the Chief, Professional Conduct and Culture, and Sergeant Major of CPCC Headquarters with the Canadian Armed Forces. We also have Retired Major Austin Douglas, General Dynamics missions systems Canada.

And finally, Debra Christmas, Executive Partner at Gartner Canada. Finally, please let me introduce to you, our panel moderator, Commodore Jacques Olivier, director general professional conduct and development within CPCC, and as noted earlier, defence champion for visible minorities. Commodore Olivier, à vous la parole.

(JO) Thank you, Martell. Distinguished guests, colleagues, friends, good day. Hello everyone! I would like to start by saying thank you to everyone who introduced me.

I look forward to continue serving you. I continue learning from you. And serving all visible minorities. I do this because it is personal for me, for DVMAG and DTBEN. Distinguished guests, we have a fantastic assemblage of panellists today. Black leaders from the public sector, the public service, the military, and the private sector as well. So, we will get started.

First question will be for deputy minister, Caroline Xavier. Deputy Minister Xavier, We know the expression “if you can see it, you can be it.” If you can see it, you can be it.

In the Defence and security sector where young black women are looking for a role model they can identify with, you stand out in the Canadian federal public service. Can you talk about your progression as a black woman through the ranks of senior leadership in the public service?

(CX) Hello everyone! Good afternoon. Thank you for the question Commodore. It is a real honour and pleasure to be with you here today, to kind of share with you a bit of my story.

As this year's theme is, it is ours to tell. So, listen, I always like to start by… by saying that When I started, I started as a student. So, I really think it's important to always tell you this because I've come a long way. As others have said, we have come a long way.

I want to say I was a little surprised to learn that this is the first black history month event being held, DND. So, I am happy that we have come a long way. But listen, I started as a student And I started some 30-plus years ago. We will not speak numbers. But the reason why I mention this is because at that time, unlike what we're trying to do today, there was not anything called bridging students.

And so, when I started as a student, I was happy to have had the experience, but I applied to jobs, just like we do in competitive processes at the time. And by the time I received my offer as a… It was some data entry position at that time. I had other job offers, I was graduating university. And I have to say, I selected the government of Canada and the federal public service, let's be frank, because it was paying me more.

And I had, you know, debts to pay, I had loans, I had school loans. So, I want to tell you that I didn’t start my career, I didn’t start out as a public servant knowing what that meant: to serve, the federal public service element of that, that I truly do understand it now, if anybody can understand that, it's the people in this room, who understand the mission and the importance of serving. So, from the time I started as a data entry type individual and training others on how to work through word processing, eventually what became Microsoft type tools, I then joined the ranks in IMIT. So, throughout my career, the first half of my career was spent in the IMIT world, I did all the way from the lowly CS one, all the way to the CS five ranks.

And the reason I make mention of this, because as was said by the minister. As we can say for many women in this room, at that time, there were very few women in this industry, let alone people that are racialized. So, for me, you know, to see it, wasn't something I saw. When I entered the boardroom, I was usually often the only woman, and often, definitely, the only racialized woman in the room. But later, you know, it became more common to have a few of us sprinkled in the organization. I was able to progress throughout the ranks. For that I'm extremely grateful. In the latter part of my life, I spent in the national security domain.

The public safety sector. And so, again, another area where, again, I don't see a whole lot of women. When you do see them, they are not looking like me. When I enter the room, often I'm the only woman, or often the only racialized woman. And so, throughout these years of my career, yes, I am happy to say there are more of us in the rooms today, but there is not that many more of us in the room with regards to those of us that have been in the senior levels. So, in February 2020, the prime minister appointed me to associate deputy minister of immigration. I have to say, that was a huge deal.

Because I very quickly learned That I was the first Black individual appointed to the position of deputy minister for the federal public service in 2020. Yeah, we'd come a long way.

So that’s to say that I was surprised, despite the fact that I knew that. Like, I knew that, because, you know, when I looked around the room, I looked at senior deputies that I interacted with, because I've done various things in my career, all the way to work in a Privy Council Office. I did not see, you know, and listen, Privy Council has a lot of deputies. There were not a lot that looked like me. There were none that looked like me. There were very few, honestly, that looked like people of colour at all.

So, the reason I’m mentioning this is because it was a big deal to become the first Deputy Minister, in 2020, who was the person appointed, the first black woman appointed, the first black person appointed.

And I make mention of this because, again, you got to see it to believe it. But I didn't see it, but I still believed it. The reason why I still believed it is more about how I was brought up and who was around me in my community and who supported me. It took mentors, it took sponsors, it took family, it took a village to be able to bring them to where I am today. And for that, I am extremely grateful. I know will have the chance to talk more about it. So, in 2020, it happened.

But the best part about having been appointed at this level is that eventually, shortly thereafter, there were two others that were pointed after me. So, in total now, we are three black deputy ministers in the federal public service.

Ceci dit, in August 2022, I was appointed as chief of the Communications Security Establishment.

For which, again, I'm extremely grateful, because I do feel that being in this role is kind of like a combination of all the experience, of both my M.I.T. world and my national security, public safety world, all joined up into this amazing job that I have. And I get to work daily with colleagues in the defence portfolio.

But I make mention of this because, again, I continue to be, now, in this position, the highest-ranking senior deputy minister of the federal public service. We are three Deputy Ministers, but I am the only one at this level who was recently promoted. Now, do I think this will last?

I expect, very much expect, that there will be others coming right behind me in the days to come. But I just wanted to share a little bit about my career. I have so many more things I could share. But I know that I'm really excited to hear from my fellow panellists here. And thank you for the opportunity to be here with you today.

And this one quote I just want to leave you with, just because it's something that has continued to be an inspiration for me, there's several, there was some that were shared throughout the remarks a few minutes ago.

But, because the Black History Month theme for the United States of America is black resistance, it's not ours to tell, it says black resistance. That's okay, it's a good theme for the Americans, given the resistance to change that there is.

I'm hoping we're gonna do better here in Canada.

But one thing that John Lewis said, you must be bold, brave, and courageous, and find a way to get in the way. So, that is what I'm here about, getting in the way.

Part 3

Video / March 17, 2023


(JO) Thank you, deputy minister, for these encouraging words. We look forward to hearing more from you, perhaps in a Q&A.

I will now turn to my colleague, master warrant officer Gareth Webb. Gareth, you are currently the executive assistant to the command chief of CCPC, but before that you were the ... you worked two years at the, it's called, the sexual misconduct support and resource centre, as a senior adviser.

And prior to that, you worked many years in recruitment as a diversity outreach coordinator. From what you have learned from all these positions, and from your own personal lived experience, what advice would you give the chain of command when it comes to building an inclusive team?

(GW) Thank you for having me, I'm happy to be here today. Firstly, what I'll say is that, when you're going to have conversations about race, culture, it is a very difficult space to navigate through, very, very difficult space. So, you know, going forward, there's a couple of things that I've learned over the years, right? One is, never start a conversation with, I don't see colour. I can't tell you enough times where I've sat in a room and someone says, I don't see race, I don't see colour.

And I'm like, I'm right here. I am literally right here, right? So, never start off with that. To be an inclusive leader, like, we say chain and command but, really, I think it's everyone who wears the uniform. Right? Everyone who wears the uniform. If you start from a grassroots organization, grassroots conversation, it will grow. Everyone will just start becoming a part of that, but we have to start it off, right? Check your unconscious biases. It happens. It literally happens.

I can't tell you how many times I sat in a room where I was there just speaking and I was ignored, or no one said, hey, you know, what do you think, Gareth? Or hey, Gareth, do you have an input, right? We have input. If we're in a search for talent, it's okay for us to say, hey, you know, what do you think? You may get a different perspective. At least you gave the person an opportunity to have that conversation.

All right? Know that every person who identifies as diverse or black, whatever the case is, has experienced microaggression, have experienced racism. Right? So, you start off at that point. It helps grow into the conversation. And from there, get to know your people. Get to know who the person who sits across from you, what they do, what drives them, what their goals are, you know, what they want to do for the future. I say that because I know there's people of colour who are in the military, who have asked to be mentored, and were not mentored. Right? So, sit down, have a conversation. It may be a difficult conversation because you may have to hear the stories. Right? But use that to your advantage. Right? Set the tone for your organization, for your department, what your expectations are. And check in on that on a continuous basis, know that, okay, where are we now? Where do we want to go as an organization, department, section, team, whatever, all right? Set the tone for your organization, help develop that. Have those difficult conversations.

Because that is the only way we're going to get to a place where we're all gonna be comfortable in the room, is for everyone to say, hey, let's have a difficult conversation. All right what I will say to that, just to sum up as well, there are organizations, there are departments, they are able to help the chain of command to get to this space. There are teams, there are DVMAGs, there are defence advisory groups at every base, right? And once again, defence advisory groups are not just there for black history month. Defence advisory groups are there to advise the chain of command, department, section, teams, on difficult ideas, difficult sections, things that are happening, real lived experience that's gonna help you and your team to develop and to get to a place where you can all be comfortable at the table. I think I'll leave it there.

(JO) Thank you, thank you, Gareth. I had the pleasure of working with Gareth on a few files, I will attest to the relaxed but very effective way he deals with otherwise very problematic situations. So, thank you, Gareth for your leadership and your support to CPCC. Our next question is for Retired Major Austin Douglas. Austin, as a decorated black veteran, who has become equally successful in the corporate world after transitioning from the forces to Canadian history, you bring a very credible and balanced voice, representing the experience of people of colour, both inside and outside of the institution. You recently reached out to us and volunteered your time to help lead change in a meaningful way by sharing your experiences, telling your story, and becoming a trusted voice, an ally to recruit and retain CAF Black members. We're immensely thankful for this offer, hence why you are here.

Austin, we are curious to know, not only why you decided to join the military and attend the Royal Military College of Canada, but more importantly, why you decided to leave a seemingly successful career? Moreover, what impact, if any, would having a black mentor, a sponsor, have played in possibly shaping your decision to stay? Would your journey and awareness have been different, Austin?

(AD) Jacques Olivier, thank you for the question, distinguished ladies and gentlemen. Notwithstanding my publicity of posters being in downtown Toronto and in other places. I'm glad I made an impact. I guess the story starts a little bit there. You know, being a retired RCR officer, it's never one to put the spotlight on yourself, and really put your troops first, and think of yourself last. That has been the ethos that I come to this podium with. A good friend of mine, while I offered to help the CAF, in what I think is meaningful movement forward, kind of nudged me over that ledge.

It followed up quickly with an email to General Eyre, who a week later had me in his office to talk about this. And got the ball rolling faster than I thought it would. And here I am on the stage. Yeah, be careful what you ask for. In working with some of the other panellists, sort of leading up to this moment, you know, I was born and raised in Montréal, Québec. Very multicultural city, and embraced all the friends and families that I had there.

When I was the one of everyone in my group to say I'm going to RMC, you know, it came to a surprise to them, why are you going there? What is there for you?

I had the opportunity to go to McGill or Concordia, but a bit of socioeconomic reasons. My mother was a housekeeper, I signed up for everything the Canadian Armed Forces promised, for education, travel the world, and employment after.

So, they definitely fulfilled all of those obligations. I was able to get a degree from RMC, I was able to get a postgraduate degree, I have forgotten places that I've visited in my time in the CAF. I've had privilege to visit the world and have a successful transition to industry. I would say, when I joined RMC in 1991, which you would think would be a very progressive year, even when you sort of compare it to 2023, I was the only person of colour in my class.

And then, once you have the time to sort of, you know, look around the college, there was only one other student of colour in the class, a female by the name of Michelle Robertson, who now goes by the name of Michelle Taylor and to this day is one of my best friends. I think what you get there is you gravitate to, you know, the similarities that you need, the belonging that you need, the understanding that you need.

And as I told you earlier, when I was there, I wasn't really sure how to ask for help. I'm not sure what help looked like. I never had someone call me in their office to say, if you haven't noticed, you know, you're one of one, or one of two. And while I can't, you know, while I'm not black or a person of colour, I am here on ... a safe place, a safe voice for you to share your experience along that roadmap.

So, I did four years at RMC. There were challenging times to survive in that place and to feel like I belonged. And while I was part of a subculture of men in the military, there was definitely a subculture of women, I was a subculture of one of one. After that, I had the opportunity to serve in the Royal Canadian regiment, I was fortunate enough to serve in all three battalions, and every time I was in a battalion I deployed an operational posting to places like Bosnia, Afghanistan, Croatia, et cetera. But as the deputy minister also pointed out, you know, I was one of one in all of those rooms. And as the Minister noted, you know, when I do walk into a room, I am very conscious of who is in the room.

During my time in the military, and in my time in industry. For those that understand the military, you know, one RCR lines, two RCR, three RCR, as you go up certain staircases, there is a picture of all the COs that have come before. And there has not been a CO of colour in those battalions. So, I think as you progress through that time in your career, and you look for things that you can identify, you look for people that you can identify, I never really saw anybody I could identify.

And as we talk about ours to tell, and our story to tell, you know, the first black general officer of colour I met was about two weeks ago, it was commander Olivier, as hard as that might seem to believe. But that is, you know, my experience, that was the vision through my eyes. So, there was no mentor, white or black, or of any other race to, you know, empathize with, to share that journey, and to fall into those trusted spaces.

You kind of find in the nook and crannies of the people that you meet, the people you identify with. As, you know, as Sergeant Major also mentioned, the things I would hear when I would conversate with friends, who are my peer groups, of colonels, one stars and two stars, it is, well, we have a general officer of colour. It's like, well, mission accomplished. You know? We can stop now. You know, those are the microaggressions, of like, what is next? What else do you want?

Maybe I was supposed to be the one, I'm not sure. But I think, you know, when I got out in 2010, it was a long ten years of service, being in, what was called DCDS Group, would be similar to CJOC now, being deployed in operations, getting the type A jobs, being deployed in operations again, and a bit of it, I was exhausted. I guess, to close that, I never had the opportunity to have that conversation with a mentor of someone of colour, to understand my place and the impacts that I have had throughout this journey.

You know, in writing that email to Wayne Eyre, to understand if I have a voice, clearly I do, and I think it's incumbent upon me to share it. As the minister said with respect to two construction battalion, the story doesn't start and stop with us, that is for sure. So, I just to be hope to be part of that arc, that takes this story from hundred years ago, that people of colour cannot serve in the Canadian military, and when they did, they were armed with shovels, not rifles. And try to tell my story, continue that journey, and hopefully it has meaning and impact for those that come behind me.

I guess the lasting link with respect to industry, you know, and being at conferences like C4ISR and Beyond a couple weeks ago, I'm very acute when I walk in that room, it is one of one or one of two. But the room is, you know, it is all white or not black. That's just the lens I see it in. I am always consciously aware of the rooms that I walk into, and who I am, and how I have to represent and carry that flag forward.

Thank you.

(JO) Thank you, Austin. And thank you for sharing your personal journey with us. You know, you are sharing a part of you, you know, with us, we appreciate this. My final question is for Debra Christmas, senior executive partner with Gartner in Toronto, a person with whom I have the pleasure of working on a few files with, CPCC, someone who actually coached me with dealing with, you know, some of my own issues, I'm going to say. Debra, you are the second generation black Canadian with also Indigenous lineage.

You grew up in a large black community in Montréal before moving to Ontario to go to university in the late 70s. At that time, very few Black, very few young Black people moved away from home, often parents of Black children could not afford the price tag associated with higher education. A career in technology was purely accidental. And yet, here you are, over four decades later. You have been successful in climbing the corporate ladder and leading large global teams in the private sector. We know that was not accidental. Debra, what was your biggest challenge being a visible minority, a woman, and a young leader? And what do you know now that you wished you knew then to overcome these barriers?

(DC) Well, thank you, Jacques, good afternoon, « bonjour » to everybody. Boy, 1979 is when I entered the high tech field, so, like everybody here, the only for sure, I still am, unfortunately in many meetings that I walk into, but I can tell you a couple of things that I learned. First of all, what was the issue? It could've been gender, it could've been race, it could have been age. You know, when I sat at the executive team table with Hewlett-Packard is where I was for many decades, people, me and nine white men that were 20 years older than I was. I know for sure, although none of them are brave enough to say it, felt I didn't belong in that room. But the person that put me in that room was a senior vice president. It's only now, Jacques and I were talking earlier about the things that you reflect on, that you don't realize how unusual it was at the time. That was 1987 when I got called to run I.T. for Hewlett-Packard.

I truly thought this man had lost his mind, I really did, I was like, what? And he was looking for a particular skill. The skill was because I.T. had just not had a good reputation. They were known as I.T. resist actually. Nobody wanted to call I.T., that's what he told me. He said, they're known as I.T. resist, I need to change that. He said, I went looking for somebody who knew customers and how to interact and to relate to people, and your name kept coming up. And, now, I'm in Ottawa, he's in Toronto, I'm in the field, I'm supporting the federal government, I'm like, I know nothing about I.T., like, nothing. I will come and talk to you because you have really got my curiosity piqued as to why you would think that. Fast forward, I accepted the job, I can tell you the day that I walked into that room with all of those other leaders, who probably thought I was the help, I took my seat at the table. And I was challenged. I was dismissed. I was, I think they tried to be, you know, polite, all of that, they did that pretty good. I can remember after maybe the third or fourth meeting, walking into John's office, John Rooney, I will never forget him, tears running down my face, I was 30 years old, 1987, I was 30 years old. First big, big, big leadership position.

I was just, I said, if you think those nine men in that room are going to take me out, you'd better buckle up. Okay? We are in for the right of your life. He just handed me the Kleenex box, didn't say a word, just handed it to me. I was like, ignore these tears. It was the first and last time you'll ever see them, they will never show up again. Let's go, you brought me here, and we are gonna do this. We did. We did. I think he did it intentionally. I think he actually took great pleasure in the way that I handled the situations that were put in front of me. There were many that were put in front of me. I think, you know, one of the key things that I learned very early on, first of all, I was in all, like many, born and raised in Montréal.

And in that black community I was raised and taught, you belong wherever you show up. You belong wherever you show up. You know, my grandfather was a porter, I had lots of porters in the family, they came from Barbados.

They came to do good work and raise their family. So, I never, ever felt that I didn't belong. They might not think I belong, but I thought I belonged. And what I also was taught by my parents is, you are gonna have to educate. There is no point just getting mad, so, my philosophy was always, my curiosity will always outweigh my indignance. So, I could sit down and interview the KKK head and have a fantastic conversation because I'm curious as to how he became that way, more so than I am mad.

Because the more that I understand where you're coming from, the more ammunition I have to now go forward. So, my father always said, you just have to be smarter, you just have to be smarter than them. So, gather the intelligence that you need and learn from that, go from there. So, that has served me well my entire, entire career. It has served me well.

And there is times where you are educating, there's times when you actually might have to literally, to somebody's face, say, is it ignorance or arrogance that is talking here?

Which one am I dealing with?

I'm gonna give you a different response whatever you tell me. And that catches people a little bit off guard because I'm prepared to deal with the ignorance. You didn't know better, so, I'm gonna help you know better. Arrogance, I will have a different answer for you. I might have a different tone on top of that. So, you just sort of try, you learn how to play that room, that is really, we've talked about the rooms that we've walked into. You need to learn what's going on in the room and who's in here and where have they come from?

I have always been very, very curious, I've been very good with people. And people love to talk about themselves, they love it, so, just start asking them questions, and then you'll have all the secrets. They will spill those things real quick. And I paid attention, you know, when Jacques said, when I'm younger and look back, I wish I knew about political savviness. I didn't really think about that consciously in 1987, even 1997, I did not think about the relationships of influence.

So, we know who is in command. This is a command organization, you know who's at the top, I think it's this fellow over here. I'm thinking, he's got a lot of stuff on him, okay? He's got a lot of stuff. So, we know who's at the top of any organization. In the private sector, we have our tops, we know who is at the top. They're the boss, they have the authority. But do you know who has the influence? And I used to pay attention, and it caught me by accident, you know, you're just walking on the hallway, I saw somebody talking and laughing, a very senior executive with another person, I'm like, something is going on there. How is that person so close to that person? They seem to be friends, just the way that they were connecting. So, I started to pay attention. I thought, the way they're talking, that person's opinion matters to that senior executive.

So, then I started to pay attention to who might have influence, you would be shocked, okay, as to who is whispering in the ear. I don't mean on the pillow, okay, I mean, who is whispering in the ear? So, as I paid attention to that, I learned how to navigate. And because of that, then you start to also pay attention to the relationships that you build.

You need to build a network of people that are beside you, in front of you, behind you, that became really important. As you're testing out ideas, go to the people that are gonna challenge you, you know, like your parents said you'd rather deal with that dirty laundry in the house before you're on the street? The same thing. Challenge me, I'm gonna take this up, pull it apart before I walk into that big boardroom, you know, with the president of Hewlett-Packard or the senior vice president of so-and-so. Understand, who are you talking to? And the last thing will leave you with, my two favourite questions in the world are, so what and who cares? I ask them for every single thing that I do. So what? Who cares? Because that is gonna help me narrow my focus.

It is gonna help me determine, can I even succeed here in this space? Or do I need to go get allies? Who do I have to go get in order to come back into this room? So, pay attention to the people that are around you because it's always between the lines. It is always the nuances that you have to pay attention to, not the stuff that's necessarily, you know, blatant, in front of your face. So, I wish I'd known a little bit about that. And just really about the culture of the organization, just how things get done, the more you pay attention to those kinds of things, the easier it is for you to navigate it, if you so choose.

(JO) Thank you, Debra. Thank you for your energy. Thank you for your candour, you know, the thought-provoking words of wisdom. They are spoken to you in plain language, there are no codes here. Thank you to all the panellists. Please remain seated, we are gonna move on to the next section of the event, which is the Q&A. I will pass the floor back to Martell.

(RMT) Thank you, sir. Sir, if you would just permit me, just really quickly, I would like to share something. So, like all of you in uniform, I remember a really specific incident. I was one of one going through basic training. I remember a specific night in Farnham, February, prone position, trying to make a decision as to, is this really for me? Amongst all the reasons why failure wasn't an option, chief amongst them was there was a Black CO. One, I felt I didn't want to let him down. But two, his presence gave me the inspiration that, this is for you, this is very doable and a place where you can thrive. So, it may not be the time, but I would like to thank that CO for your inspiration. You know, black, white, purple, you never know who is watching and taking courage from the way you carry yourself and how you conduct your business. So, I would just ask that all of us, just be open to being allies to all of those around us.

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