The road to success is hard and it’s even harder when you’re a person of color. The Weeknd‘s latest initiative is trying to remedy that. This week the singer, along with his creative director La Mar Taylor and PR expert Ahmed Ismail, launched BLACK HXOUSE, a Toronto-based program empowering BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) with mentorship, tools, learning, and networking opportunities.
BLACK HXOUSE, an offshoot of the Weeknd’s HXOUSE enterprise launched in 2018, stands at odds within a system that is intrinsically set up to impede people of color from being great. It aims to elevate and empower people of color to succeed and grow and focus on building an even more inclusive creative industry – and society.
Visible minorities have considerably fewer chances of getting work opportunities. According to a 2019 study, Canada ranks third in racial discrimination in hiring processes in the world. And while the creative industry currently thrives on “diversity” as a selling point, it’s a very different story behind the scenes. Magazine covers might like to tell us otherwise, but only 11% of industry jobs are filled by black, Asian, and minority ethnic people. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned the challenges faced by young creatives that can’t afford to take on unpaid internships. The issue of diversity in the workforce needs a drastic change and BIPOC-led spaces like BLACK HXOUSE are needed to proactively off-set this.
Given their own backgrounds, it’s a project that’s particularly close to home for HXOUSE co-founders Ahmed Ismail and La Mar Taylor. We spoke to Ismail and Taylor about BLACK HXOUSE and why this initiative was so sorely needed.
How did you get involved in BLACK HXOUSE?
Ahmed Ismail: “When we founded HXOUSE in 2018, we knew it was was only a matter of time before we establish a separate pillar to address all that we had to overcome to be successful in business as young black Canadian leaders. We felt it was important to share how to be successful and support the community we came from that has been overlooked for far too long. We wanted to show how to navigate barriers of a system that does not acknowledge your talent and merit fairly simply because of your skin tone. We personally know some amazing talent that never fulfilled their potential for no other reason than prejudicial actions taken by employers who won’t hire BIPOC talent.”
La Mar Taylor: “I got involved in BLACK HXOUSE from having to answer to the extreme pressure our culture is in. Systemic pressure built on top of countless, endless years of economic deprivation. My community is screaming for help. BIPOC’s are tired of having to put in 5x the work only to get -5x the compensation from their white counterparts. We really have to build a new system that is structured for us to have more success stories. You can’t change a system that was built intentionally to create barriers around communities of people.
“We are in a very unique time where BIPOCs are influencing and running some of the leading industries in the world. I don’t think we have ever been in a time where our culture sells and sets the trend of the magnitude of where society is currently at. On the front end, our community is leading the charge, but the backend is so diluted by the lack of representation, companies need to dismantle and create new pathways of entry.”
Why do you feel it was important to establish such an initiative for BIPOC creatives and entrepreneurs?
AI: “At HXOUSE, we knew the system was broken, we needed to envision solutions that are as wide-spread as the problems themselves. No one should be denied a fair shot at success, and the need to address this issue has never been more clear. We needed a holistic, long-term sustainable approach because we were frustrated and wanted to move forward. Right now there are too many conversations and hashtags – it’s overdone. Everyone in leadership positions needs to just stop what they are doing and just do the work. Put fair workplace practices in place that allow a path for BIPOC employees and talent to grow.”
Why do you think BIPOCs are still underrepresented in the industry?
AI: “The way industry currently functions, it is blind to perceiving and comprehending the historical contributions that people of color have made to society. That ignorance has created prejudicial hiring decisions solely based on their preconceived assumptions of what someone of color can contribute to the company, therefore, denying them the opportunity to show their ability. This view is contrary to the stats that show when a company does hire BIPOC leadership they are just as capable, if not more capable than their white counterparts.”
LMT: “[It starts] from the lack of BIPOC executive leadership in positions of power to hire and onboard talent. Until we see more representation at senior levels, we will never see real change. At the moment, for a lot of big companies, BIPOCs are onboarded not for their talent, skills, or the perspective they might bring to the equation, but only for the mere purpose of checking off their diversity box. We are tired of being a line item. We want the ball and the table.”
What are the hurdles that make it harder for BIPOCs to build their network and skill sets, as opposed to their white peers?
AI: “The hurdles BIPOC individuals face is their white peers are allowed to fail and fail often. That is rarely the case when it comes to blacks in the workforce, the over scrutiny is there from day one. Black employees are not allowed to make the same mistakes or take the same risks on the job as their white counterparts.”
How important were Black/POC mentors in your own career path?
LMT: “I never had any. Coming from Canada 10 to 15 years ago, you would be lucky to even be in the room. I had to create a superhero version of myself in my head to look up too. I projected who I wanted to be in the future and worked towards that. I feel like now, the next generation coming up is more fortunate than we were. There’s black superhero’s in all categories, breaking down boundaries and opening up a lot more doors for people to come through. We still got a long way to go, but the door is cracked open.”
AI: “I was fortunate to grow up early in my life in America, where black male mentorship is prevalent. It is the fundamental reason I was able to advance at such a rapid rate, and why I felt held back in Canada, where that level of support does not exist. It’s why I have been big on mentorship and giving back everything I know because of the incredible men who made the time to give me the confidence to feel like I am more than I see in myself at that current moment in my life.”
What is your hope for the future of BLACK HXOUSE?
AI: “To change the narrative and pre-conceived misconceptions that have lingered in the workplace for far too long about people of color that have had detrimental effects on our community’s overall self-worth.
We want to create real economic opportunities for advancing our community. This comes by having the corporate and governmental leaders who control resourcing to build a better system to distribute those opportunities more equitably. We look forward to building bridges to help organizations looking to change move closer to a more inclusive workforce that reflects the current reality of society.”
LMT: “To help build, navigate, and launch more success stories of BIPOCs.”