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Fighting discrimination: what we learned with Joëlle Martina

20 July

Note: You’ll find a lexicon explaining certain terms related to discrimination at the end of this article.


At Substance/Radiance, it’s important to us that our workplace be an inspiring and safe space for everyone. We express this commitment in our diversity and inclusion committee’s manifesto and in our daily actions.

Writing about it is great, but doing something is better. That’s why on June 22nd, our whole team came together in a conversational safe space to listen to the testimony of Joëlle Martina, consultant, facilitator and cofounder of Les Lilas. And we want to share our experience with you.

Here’s what we learned thanks to this expert in emotional intelligence and defender of radical listening.

We can cause harm without knowing

Microaggressions. Everyday racism and sexism. These terms are increasingly present in workspace discourse, and that’s a good thing. Racism and sexism have many faces, and often, those who think they’ve done nothing wrong have a lot of work to do.

It’s time for a little introspection on our cognitive biases… so we can deconstruct them. We need to change the way we think. Undo associations we make without thinking. We need to do so even if we don’t fully understand why it’s bad. We need to do so because it causes harm.

We all have work to do

We all have our own path to deconstruct our preconceived ideas. This road is longer for some, and that’s completely normal. In fact, we can’t learn inclusivity like we study multiplication tables. It takes time, and more importantly, open-mindedness.

Let’s try to avoid closing ourselves off in our guilt. We cannot learn with that perspective, and these feelings do nothing for the cause. It centres the conversation around us instead of opening it to others.

So let’s put guilt in the garbage and move forward.

We’re responsible for our own education

As of now, the weight of educating often falls on the shoulders of those who face discrimination, and that’s a heavy load to carry. It’s not the global majority’s responsibility to answer our questions.

It’s on us to do research and try to better understand the reality of people around us. We should also be proud of our learnings and our growth.

Let’s celebrate our progress!

We must always speak up

Of all our learnings from Joëlle Martina’s talk, this might be the most important:

We cannot stay quiet in the face of intolerance.

For someone experiencing discrimination, inaction hurts almost as much as insult. When we decide to do nothing, we are part of the problem. It’s our responsibility to speak up when we witness out-of-line behaviour.

It might not be easy, but it’s important. By speaking up, we move the cause forward and we contribute to breaking the chain of ignorance. Big steps have already been made, but there’s still a long way to go.

We all have the power to make a difference

Together, we can make the world a safer place. We can turn our environment into a place where everyone feels like they belong and can express themselves freely.

In our daily lives, at work or at home, we can:

- Contribute to progress by speaking up;

- Establish safe spaces;

- Use our privilege to foster conversation;

- Accept that we still have things to work on;

- Listen with an open mind to those facing discrimination

        What is the agency’s role in this?

        As a marketing agency, we benefit from a certain reach we can leverage to contribute to inclusivity. We have the privilege and opportunity to educate our clients and our target audiences on the matter, and to put diversity centre-stage in our initiatives.

        We want Substance/Radiance to be a space where all members of the team, no matter their beliefs, their gender, their orientation or their origins, feel like they can grow without censoring themselves. It’s continuous work. Something that motivates us day after day.

        We heard you, Joëlle. We’re listening, we’re learning, and we’re growing.


        The lexicon of diversity

        Global majority:

        Did you know that caucasians make up less than 15% of the global population? From this perspective, the term “visible minority” loses all meaning. That’s why, in the context of this article, we prefer “global majority”.

        Microaggressions :

        Microaggressions are behaviours or language that may seem innocuous, but cause great harm to those facing discrimnation. This accumulation over time adds a heavy weight on a daily basis.

        Cognitive bias:

        “Women are more emotional.”

        “Men are naturally aggressive.”

        Cognitive biases are the shortcuts your mind takes based on stereotypes and prejudices. There are so omnipresent in our society that we internalise them and make them a reality,

        Everyday racism and sexism:

        “Where are you from?”

        “You’re really strong for a girl!”

        Everyday racism and sexism are all the little gestures, comments, and repeated offences we impose on women and people from other cultures, sometimes without even realising.

        Internalised misogyny:

        “I get along better with guys. Girls have too much drama.”

        “I’m not like other girls”

        Internalised misogyny is unknowingly spread by those who were raised as girls through their own stereotyped view of the feminine gender.



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