Guide to courageous conversations on racism and discrimination

Racism and discrimination still manifests in our workplaces through bias, privilege, policies and power dynamics. The Defence Team must put compassionate effort into practice to actively become an anti-racist organization. We all have to do the work in shifting mindsets and promoting an inclusive workplace and acknowledge that together, we're different.

Use this guide to hold conversations on racism and discrimination that are considerate of all participants, whether or not they belong to a racialized group. It can be consulted to prepare for an initial conversation or ongoing conversations. Committing to a series of conversations from the outset will allow for the time and space to develop a meaningful understanding of issues and concerns.

Catalyst for change

In January 2021, the Clerk of the Privy Council Office issued a Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion which made clear to all federal government departments and agencies that anti-racism is now a public service priority. The time to act to advance anti-racism, equity and inclusion in our organization is now.

So, now what? We need to talk, but not just talk. The time is now for us to have the difficult conversations, talk about the issues, listen to those with lived experiences about what is working and what has not worked. We are in a critical time and this is a business imperative to ensure continued success of our people and our organization.

In planning these courageous conversations, it is important to first acknowledge that there are very real challenges associated with planning a successful discussion on racism. We are all learning and this is a lifelong process. Be prepared to dig deep and think about how you contribute to and whether you challenge racism and discrimination.

Purpose of guide

This resource is meant to increase self-awareness and situational awareness in order to raise and address difficult/uncomfortable issues, and can be used to:

This guide offers the Defence Team opportunities to take small steps in creating open dialogue and turning them into meaningful action.

Understanding the terminology

Even the most frequently used words in any discussion on race can easily cause confusion, which can lead to controversy and hostility. It is essential to achieve some degree of shared understanding, particularly when using the most common terms. In this way, the quality of dialogue on race can be enhanced.

Below is a list of some commonly used terms to get started with.


Equal treatment that brings about an equality of results and that may, in some instances, require different treatment. For example, to give all students equal treatment in entering a building, it may be necessary to provide a ramp for a student who uses a wheelchair.


Equality in access and outcomes and a distinct process of recognizing differences within groups of individuals, and using this understanding to achieve substantive equality in all aspects of a person's life.

Systemic Barrier

A barrier embedded in the social or administrative structures of an organization, including the physical accessibility of an organization, organizational policies, practices and decision-making processes, or the culture of an organization.


Appreciating and using our unique differences – strengths, talents, weaknesses and frailties – in a way that shows respect for the individual and ultimately creates a dynamic multi-dimensional organization.


Benefitting from unearned power, benefits, advantages, access and/or opportunities based on membership or perceived membership in a dominant group.


A subjective opinion, preference, prejudice, or inclination, often formed without reasonable justification, which influences the ability of an individual or group to evaluate a particular situation objectively or accurately. Biases (particularly implicit biases) are built into and perpetuated by societal structures. These biases might be against others’ race, gender, weight, disability, sexuality, skin-tone, age, culture or religion.

You can refer to the anti-racism lexicon for a comprehensive set of terms and definitions.

Preparing for a conversation

Before you begin, consider the following factors before embarking on initial discussions or conversations.

When we consider our own layers, check our assumptions and ask about inclusion, we can create change and guide our conversations with positive intentions.

Consider layers

Reflect on your own identities and life experiences, and how these may intersect with social and organizational factors. These multiple factors influence the way we interact with others, provide services, design policies and programs.

Check assumptions
Ask about inclusion
  • Who is not included in the work you do?
  • What could contribute to this exclusion?
  • What can you do differently to ensure inclusion?

Critical self-reflection is key in order to understand and unpack seen and unseen assumptions and biases we have.

  • Reflecting on self: ask racially and culturally grounded questions about yourself to increase awareness of seen (consciously known), unseen (unknown), and unforeseen (anticipated) issuesFootnote 1
  • Reflecting on self in relation to others: acknowledge the multiple roles, identities, and positions you and your colleagues bring to the workplace
  • Reflecting on self to system: consider how history and politics shape or influence your personal experiences and that of colleagues within your organization

Starting a conversation

Engaging in dialogue is the first step to understanding one another. The goal of these conversations is to raise awareness and consciousness with hopes that a deeper understanding and empathy will lead to a commitment to shift mindsets and behaviours.

Steps to consider when engaging in discussion on racism and discrimination:

BRAVE framework

Creating change through meaningful conversations and choosing to be honest, open and transparent can provide a path forward to building trust and understanding. To help facilitate workplace conversations, this guide will discuss the BRAVE Framework developed by Dr. Enrica N. Rugg and Dr. Derek Avery as an approach to framing conversations about racism and racial discrimination.

BRAVE is an acronym for Build, Respect, Acknowledge, Validate and Emphasize. The BRAVE Framework is a useful tool that guides methods, processes and strategies when having courageous conversations with management and employees at all levels of an organization.

Before you open the conversation, establish why these types of conversations are in everybody's best interest and the importance of assessing/acknowledging where things stand within the workplace.

For example, you could say, "I didn't realize how much I didn't know about race" or "I would like to engage you in a conversation about race in a real and honest way." These kinds of opening statements can set the stage for the kind of dialogue you want to have with your team.Footnote 3


Build the intention, focus, and safety needed to have honest conversations about race.

The result? Don't let a planned conversation derail into a general discussion on diversity and inclusion without touching on concerns specific to race, like psychological safety, loss of employment opportunities.


Respect the sensitivity of the topic while challenging people to go beyond the superficial. Employees need to respect other people's boundaries.


Acknowledge the uncomfortable realities of the past and the present.

Take the time to discuss those parts of Canadian history that are in stark contrast to Canada's multicultural brand. For example, slavery, residential schools and the Japanese internment, and the legacy of that history on the political, economic and health outcomes of Indigenous, Black and other racialized groups today.

It's equally important to keep in mind that some people can get uncomfortable thinking about their role in upholding systems of oppression and inequality in the world and in the workplace, but we need to talk about these things for progress to be made.


Validate and accept the experiences of your racially marginalized colleagues. Productive conversation requires acknowledging the reality of racism and racial discrimination.


Emphasize how your organization is prioritizing goals and metrics around racial equity. Conversations should lead somewhere.

BRAVE conversations should include explicit steps for moving toward racial equity:

Closing a conversation

As you reach a point where you feel it is time to close the conversationFootnote 6, consider doing any of the following:

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