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Black History Month - How Renee Weekes-Duncan is paving an inclusive path forward at Rogers and beyond

The journey of creating a truly inclusive work culture is continuously evolving, and, thanks to passionate team members and strong leaders like Renee Weekes Duncan –  Communications Lead of Inclusion & Diversity and Culture Communications at Rogers – our teams are being inspired to bring their whole selves to work.  

We sat down with Renee to learn more about her passion for building inclusive communities and how her lived experiences have inspired her to take action, both here at Rogers and beyond.

As Communications Lead, I&D and Culture, your role requires you to have challenging conversations. The events from the last year have sparked worldwide dialogue on the perpetuation of racial injustices experienced by the Black community. How have these conversations impacted your work and how have you supported yourself and our teams through these conversations?

I made a conscious decision to come to Rogers ten months ago for this newly created role. I had reached a point in my career where I wanted to find a position that truly married my skill with my passion. 

Those of us who are part of equity deserving groups don’t always share the same opinions, and it’s important to truly listen to the thoughts of others, as everyone has different lived experiences.

This role has taught me so much about myself, as well as the Black community. The most important lesson that I’ve learned is the importance of truly listening and leading with empathy. Those of us who are part of equity deserving groups don’t always share the same opinions, and it’s important to truly listen to the thoughts of others, as everyone has different lived experiences. 

I’ve also learned the importance of recognizing that I&D is truly a journey and to remember to celebrate the small moments along the way.

Your commitment to the Black community extends beyond your role at Rogers. Tell us about your experience as co-founder of Code Black, a resource and safe space dedicated to the advancement of Black communications professionals.

Over the course of my career, I’ve held various roles in the field of communications, including the non-profit world, PR agencies, and large Canadian companies.

Throughout my career journey, I always knew that I would likely be “the only one” – certainly within my team, and likely within the company. The reality was that I never saw other Black faces around the boardroom table, and it sadly became something that I began to recognize as I got progressively senior in my career and I started to wonder if, in fact, there were more of “us”. 

In 2017, I connected with two other Black women who were also leaders in the communications industry, Bunmi Adeoye and Maxine McDonald. Together, we started to dream about how we could assemble a group Black Canadian communicators in a safe space and provide and advocate for the tools and support needed to navigate their careers.

We talked about all of the benefits that people would receive in coming together – the chance to celebrate triumphs, a place where others would understand the challenges that you face, and a place to network and share resources. 

Initially, the idea was to start a Facebook group, but we quickly recognized the opportunity that we had in front of us and that evolved into an invested community on various social platforms, live and virtual events, a newsletter and a podcast!

Over the past four years through a variety of ways, we’ve established opportunities to interact with and advocate for our community, discuss a range of career and trending topics from a race and gender lens, as well as share opportunities & resources. 

Mentorship is a central component to empowering the next generation of Black Canadian youth to reach their full potential. Why do you believe that Black History makes Black Futures possible? 

I often receive messages from Black communications professionals who reach out to me for advice, as they’re often navigating what, at times, can be a challenging path of being the only person in their organization that looks like them. I have seen how the power of mentorship can help motivate, provide direction and oftentimes, ensure that people feel seen. 

Regardless of the demands of my schedule, I make it a priority to connect with each person as I recognize the importance of mentorship and the impact that it ultimately has on professional development. 

One of the core reasons that we launched Code Black is for Black students to see someone who looks like them and can show them a career path that they may have potentially not considered. Creating mentorship opportunities is essential, and through the organization, we provide access to top-tier professionals and who help students gain valuable career insights.

With the recent mass awareness of anti-Black racism and systemic racism in the summer of 2020, Code Black took action by creating a 12-point manifesto to highlight some of the practices that create and support barriers for Black professionals within the communications industry.  The intention of this manifesto was not only to highlight the impact of these practices, but also to identify practical steps organizations can take to create a more equitable and safe workplace and industry, which will ultimately help to create a better future for the next generation of Black communicators.

Beyond Black History Month, how do you think we can all continue to celebrate Black History?

I love the energy that is directed towards Black History Month by the ally community, but to truly be an ally, I urge folks to truly think about how they can do more than just educating themselves, but also taking action to facilitate positive change and helping to build inclusive environments. Take the opportunity to educate yourself on the Black experience and to speak up in moments that can sometimes be uncomfortable. Remember that it’s not always about grand gestures, but having difficult conversations and learning to call out biases, microaggressions, and discrimination. 

Realize that even though you may make mistakes, it’s about learning from those moments that is important.