Ottawa entrepreneur Nathan Hall started Culture Check as a labour of love, something that he was passionate about because he recognized that organizations needed to improve their work environments so that all employees felt included and accepted.
As his budding social enterprise sparked interest and began expanding, it put him in the challenging situation of running not one, but two organizations simultaneously.
Earlier this month, the 37-year-old businessman stepped away as chief executive of award-winning video marketing agency Simple Story to become full-time CEO of Culture Check, a learning and development company that he founded in 2020 to address racial inequity in the workplace through a combination of training, coaching, peer networking, research, best practices and tools.
Hall was comfortable with passing on the leadership torch at Simple Story in order to focus all his efforts on Culture Check and his team.
“It required more attention, more dedication in order to help it grow into what it can be and to help the people I’m hiring be able to thrive in the roles that they’re doing,” explained the 2020 recipient of a Forty Under 40 award for young business leaders in the National Capital Region.
Hall will take the next few months to flesh out his plan to move the business forward.
“I just want to make sure I’m keeping things contained and at a place that’s manageable and that makes sense and not chasing every opportunity that comes around,” he said. “It’s about being very strategic and thoughtful about what we want to take on, when we want to take it on, and not just grow for growth’s sake.”
"So many organizations have just relied on silence; if we just don’t say anything, address it, or don’t talk about these issues, they will just go away. But all that does is perpetuate the problem."
While Hall says it’s exciting to expand his company, Culture Check is so much more than just a business for him. “The work that we do impacts people in a very fundamental way, in a very powerful way.”
One of the goals of Culture Check is to engage more organizations in conversations about race in the workplace as it relates to Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.
“So many organizations have just relied on silence; if we just don’t say anything, address it, or don’t talk about these issues, they will just go away. But all that does is perpetuate the problem,” said Hall.
As a result of his surveys and assessments, Hall has come to realize that most executives and managers recognize that racism is a problem in the workplace and view it as an issue that’s important, but few see it existing on their own teams.
“Everyone has this conceptual idea of what the issue is but they see it as happening out there, as a foreign concept. People do not seem to grasp that it is happening right in front of their face; they’re unable to see how they’re contributing to it.”
Hall previously found, from his own research, that 80 per cent of racialized professionals expect to experience some racism on the job.
“We’re on a mission to truly engage in these really difficult conversations,” said Hall, a former graduate in sociology from the University of Ottawa.
'Walking on eggshells'
Many managers, he said, are too scared to ask their employees questions unrelated to work for fear of saying the wrong thing and offending them, he said.
“People are walking around on eggshells. Building that psychological safety is such a foundational element to all of this work. It’s not just about, ‘Now I know all the right things to say and do’. You’re never going to know all the right things to say and do. We’re all individuals, all different, it’s all contextually based. The goal is creating environments and cultures where we’re able to show up and engage each other in a meaningful way.”
Diversity allows organizations to draw on the experiences and perspectives of a variety of people, but diversity alone is not enough, said Hall.
“Just having someone at the table doesn't mean they do not feel the need to assimilate, to change their voice, to not talk about the things they want to talk about because they’re already on the outskirts, already feeling excluded.
“We need to be able to create these inclusive environments where everybody is able to participate and show up as their full selves.”
Other people on the move across Ottawa
As part of Lennard Commercial Realty’s ongoing expansion, it has announced that Ian Shackell has joined its newest branch in Ottawa as a partner. Shackell is a well-established name in the commercial real estate world in Ottawa, having jointly founded the Ottawa office of CBRE Ltd., where he worked until 2022 before moving to Lennard. He joins his son, Matt Shackell, whose expertise is in industrial sales, leasing and investment real estate at Lennard Commercial Realty.
Former iPolitics managing editor Janet Silver has joined Syntax Strategic as senior director of advocacy and communications. Silver has nearly 30 years’ experience in media, including time as executive producer of The West Block with Tom Clark, and producing news out of Washington, D.C. for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Reuters and Fox News. Silver is one of several new additions to the Ottawa-based full-service firm specializing in media relations, strategic communications, marketing, graphic design, policy and public affairs. Also to recently join the team have been: Brad Fougere, formerly with Canada Soccer, as director of communications and media relations; Jon Dugal as a senior consultant in the policy and government relations practice; and Farhana Cynthia as digital content coordinator.
Ashley Richer has just joined the OSEG (Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group) Foundation as its newly created senior manager of annual giving. She brings nearly 15 years’ experience in fundraising in Ottawa, most recently as advancement manager for the Ottawa Network for Education for the past six years.
Stéphanie Trottier is the new director of marketing, media and partnerships at the Fairmont Château Laurier. She was working in public relations with Tourisme Outaouais prior to joining the Ottawa hotel. Other changes in the tourism and hospitality industry include the return of Chris Bosley to Infinity Convention Centre as its general manager. He’d been working as GM for Alavida Lifestyles during much of the pandemic, when special event spaces were closed or running under-capacity, but returned March 1 to ICC, where he had been its general manager since it first opened in 2016.