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Jason Murray, founder and president of BIPOC Executive Search Inc., is photographed in Toronto's financial district on July 15, 2020.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

A veteran executive recruiter has launched a new company focused on finding candidates who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour for executive positions across corporate Canada.

Jason Murray, founder and president of the BIPOC Executive Search Inc., said the new company was inspired by the BlackNorth Initiative, a program established by the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism, which aims to put more Black leaders in executive and board member roles.

Mr. Murray has more than 14 years of experience recruiting for executive positions and has worked on more than 300 searches. He said specializing in recruiting members of minority groups for executive positions helps bring forward people who are often overlooked because they’re not part of certain networks.

“There’s no firm that actually specializes in BIPOC recruitment at the senior level,” Mr. Murray said.

Mr. Murray said recruiters often do broad research to determine who may have the necessary qualifications for job openings, and tap into their own networks to get recommendations or leads. The latter strategy, he says, can bring up “names that are often homogenous” because people’s networks tend to be limited to where they were raised or went to school.

Canadian companies are under pressure to improve diversity and representation in their work forces and executives. Since January, public companies regulated by the Canada Business Corporations Act have been required to annually disclose information on the diversity of their boards and other executive positions to their shareholders. Recent conversations about race around the world have also prompted Canadian corporations to speak publicly about and donate to diversity initiatives.

About 1.2 million people identify as Black in Canada, around 3.5 per cent of the country’s total population, according to the 2016 census. However, recent studies show that Black, Indigenous and other minority groups are not proportionally represented at the executive level.

“This is an opportunity to create a really robust network of people in the BIPOC community to make sure that when exec searches are done, there are robust numbers of BIPOC individuals on the long list, short list and interview list,” Mr. Murray said. He added that companies like his will show clients that a lot of talent is out there.

“They just need to know where that talent is, and the search firm is a channel to accessing those talented folks,” he said.

Corporate Knights Magazine has reported that a forthcoming study by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute analyzing 178 companies across Canada showed that Black board members made up only 0.79 per cent, or 13 positions, of the total 1,639 roles surveyed. The magazine’s own count of S&P/TSX 60 companies found that less than 1 per cent, or only six of 779 senior executives and four of 686 board members at the 60 companies were Black.

The BlackNorth Initiative says its goal is to have Black leaders in 3.5 per cent of executive roles at Canadian companies by 2025; in other words, for the executive proportion to more comparably represent the group’s population in Canada.

Mr. Murray said his company also offers services such as management training, and equality, diversity and inclusion audits to allow clients to recognize ways to improve and have a more inclusive work environment.

Meryl Afrika, president of the board of the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals, which is a strategic partner of the BlackNorth Initiative, said companies such as BIPOC Executive Search are going to be much more connected and intentional than more general recruiters about finding qualified minority candidates for executive roles.

Existing firms may be well intentioned, Ms. Afrika said, but they often don’t have the right networks and ties to organizations and initiatives.

Mr. Murray said he’s received interest already from companies that want to retain and recruit minority executives. Within the next year, Mr. Murray said, he hopes to work with around 50 organizations.

Bringing more voices and talents into the conversation will benefit everyone, Mr. Murray said.

“I do feel strongly that our economy is not realizing its true potential, because there are many talented voices that are not being brought into convos,” he added.

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