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Co-founders and directors, Wayne, left and Nigela Purboo, right are launching the Onyx Initiative, a Toronto based non-profit designed to address the pervasive gap that exists in the recruitment and selection of Black college and university students for roles in corporate Canada.

Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

A new non-profit offering mentorship and training to Black college and university students is looking to increase diversity in the upper ranks of Canadian corporations.

The Onyx Initiative will provide Black students and recent graduates with coaching and online training on everything from conflict resolution to crafting a cover letter and acing a job interview. It will also connect students with prospective employers.

“You can think of Onyx as providing a bridge between academia and corporate partners," said Wayne Purboo, who co-founded the program with his wife, Nigela Purboo.

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"We’re really there to serve both sides, by improving the talent pool and exposing the talent pool to corporate Canada.”

Bell Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Manulife Financial Corp. and PwC Canada are among the program’s corporate sponsors. Other partners include the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism, Ryerson, McMaster and Brock universities and George Brown College.

A number of Canadian corporations have increased their targets recently for employees who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour (collectively known as BIPOC) in their leadership and executive ranks amid a growing movement to combat systemic racism and bias.

Bell has boosted its target for BIPOC representation in senior management to at least 25 per cent by 2025 and among its intern and graduate hires to at least 40 per cent.

TD, meanwhile, committed last July to increasing BIPOC executive representation by 50 per cent by 2025; the announcement followed a promise to double its share of Black executives by 2022. If the bank meets its targets, racialized employees will comprise more than a quarter of its leaders, chief executive Bharat Masrani said in a memo.

Manulife has vowed to increase BIPOC representation in director-level and above roles by 30 per cent in Canada and the United States by 2025.

The Purboos were spurred into action earlier this year after scenes of police brutality in the United States and mass protests.

Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

Black graduates from postsecondary schools are underrepresented in high-paying occupations, according to data from Statistics Canada. That gap is caused by a combination of factors, including less access to social networks and mentorship opportunities, Ms. Purboo said. Some corporations, meanwhile, don’t know how to identify BIPOC talent, she added.

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“This gap starts very early and it perpetuates itself in future years, because these candidates tend to enter the job market in their fields later in life, which leads to insufficient tenure for executive roles," she said.

But it’s not just about doing the right thing, she added. For companies, having a more diverse talent pool makes financial sense, providing fresh perspectives and insights that can bolster the business.

The Purboos, who have three university-age sons, were spurred into action earlier this year after scenes of police brutality in the United States and mass protests. “In the wake of that global social justice movement we felt that call to action," Ms. Purboo said.

Over the next few months, Onyx will be recruiting its first cohort of about 200 students. The organization has seen “significant demand” from Canadian companies, said Mr. Purboo, a media and telecom entrepreneur who co-founded QuickPlay Media, a video streaming platform that was acquired by AT&T in 2016.

“At this point in time we have an opportunity to actually have a generational impact by creating this," he said.

“For Nigela and I, this is really an intervention. Our long-term goal is that we can shut down Onyx because hiring practices are more just. This is not something that we would like to see exist beyond our lifetime.”

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