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Black on Bay Street: Why a U of T grad says she didn't fit in at a big law firm

Hadiya Roderique says she couldn't fit in at a Bay Street law firm because of the colour of her skin and her values (photo by Arild via Flickr)

Hadiya Roderique worked hard, cultivated extra curriculars and did her research for interviews with big law firms. After law school and an articling year, she landed a coveted job – an associate position at Fasken Martineau – only to find that she couldn’t fit in as one of the only Black people in a predominantly white office.
In an essay for the Globe and Mail, she describes the hurdles and isolation she experienced as a Black woman interviewing for Bay Street firms and, later, working for one. 
As an applicant, she says she considered using her middle name, Joleene, and "whitening" her resumé in other ways to improve her chances.  “Whitening is just one of the many ways we try to fit into these worlds when we would rather they expand to include us,” she writes.
At the office, Roderique (left) says she felt isolated by the colour of her skin and her values. On one occasion, she was mistaken for a lawyer’s assistant rather than the associate she was.
“Nowadays in Canada, overt acts of racism are rare. Instead, the subtle ones tire you out and wear your sense of belonging,” she says.

Read Roderique's essay in the Globe and Mail

One day, she accompanied a senior partner to question a client who was a manager after a series of firings was being grieved by its union, partly due to racial discrimination. The manager said the workers were “mostly black” and pointed at Roderique. The white senior partner froze and let the remark go without comment, Roderique says. “I was a lawyer and I belonged there. But it felt like I had to prove it more, while others got the benefit of the doubt.” 
Law firms are aware of a lack of diversity within their ranks, she says, but they prefer applicants who resemble the current staff – which works against people of colour.
By 2011, she had had enough. “Big law could not accommodate the person and the colour I was.” She worked for a boutique law firm before walking away from the law entirely, returning to U of T for a PhD in organizational behaviour and human resource management. 
In an interview on CBC’s Metro Morning, she says she hopes her piece will encourage CEOs to rethink their hiring practices and “how they might be favouring certain groups of people.”
She suggests law firms remove names from resumés before considering applicants. 
“I do think to this day if I would have gotten more interviews if I put H.J. Roderique instead of Hadiya.”