Onyx Initiative Helping to Expand Black Talent Pipeline in Canada

Canada has a wealth of young, talented Black students and graduates, but systemic barriers put many at a disadvantage in the workforce, particularly as they’re entering it. In fact, Statistics Canada numbers report that Black post-secondary graduates with a Bachelor’s degree earn significantly less than White graduates. But Onyx Initiative is working to change that through a program that mentors Black scholars and bridges the gap in recruitment of Black talent in corporate Canada. 

What is Onyx Initiative? 

Founded just a year ago and officially launched in October 2020, the Onyx Initiative supports the professional growth and development of Black Canadians as they launch their careers by helping them access placements, mentorships, coaching and professional development opportunities. 

Onyx Initiative founders Nigela and Wayne Purboo were deeply impacted by the murder of George Floyd and the resulting wave of Black Lives Matter protests that swept across the world. They, too, wanted to effect change.  

Wayne’s extensive experience in the tech world and his firsthand relationship with the lack of diversity in the industry was a catalyst in starting Onyx Initiative. Knowing that there is a wealth of untapped Black talent across industries in Canada, he and Nigela set out to create an organization that would close the systemic gap in the recruitment of Black university and college students and recent graduates by expanding the Black talent pipeline.  

Nigela and Wayne chose to focus their efforts on one of the key causes of this gap—career opportunities. The comparative delay in finding a job in their chosen field means Black talent have less tenure when applying for more senior roles later on, making it harder to advance in their career. Creating early opportunities sets Black talent up for a better career trajectory overall. 

Connecting Top Talent and Employers 

Onyx Initiative’s goal of expanding the Black talent pipeline centres on mentoring young talent and creating connections between employers and Black talent. 

Open to Black scholars across all areas of study, Onyx Initiative supports students and recent grads with the development of skills that will help them land internships and jobs. It includes interview preparation, cover letter and resume writing, business etiquette, data and digital literacy and PowerPoint and Excel training. This experience is enriched with personalized mentorship and coaching.  

The next step is connecting scholars with employers. Corporate partners fall into one of two tiers: subscribers or sponsors. Subscribers have access to Onyx Initiative’s job board to promote opportunities and recruit Black talent. Sponsorship employers have access to the job board as well, but they enjoy a deeper level of engagement and promotion with Onyx Initiative’s Black scholars. “Having a strong network of support, both within the tech industry and the broader business sector, provides countless opportunities for us to expose our scholars to prime positions and influential people who can offer advice and exclusive access to roles,” explains Nigela Purboo, executive director of Onyx Initiative. 

This targeted opportunity to connect is designed to eliminate the unconscious bias that occurs in hiring, often at the recruiter or vetting stage. By posting to a job board exclusively accessed by Black talent, employer partners are able to ensure their hiring managers are getting Black applicants—and it means they’re truly able to choose from the best talent. 

In just a year, Onyx Initiative is already seeing the success of its efforts. The number of students and recent graduates in the program nearly doubled between the first and second cohorts, and, even more importantly, young Black talent are being hired by Onyx Initiative partner companies. Initiative participants Radwan Yuusef, Latoya Edwards, and Jordan Smith are perfect examples—Yuusef impressed managers at PwC so much that, despite a position not previously existing in his city, they created an internship for him anyway, Edwards is interning at CIBC this summer and Smith landed a full-time job at First National Financial LP. 

Increasing Opportunity for Black Talent in Tech 

Black talent is severely underrepresented in tech, and both Onyx Initiative and TECHNATION are working to change that.  

STEM students and recent graduates are a priority for Onyx Initiative, with outreach teams making a concerted effort to attract Black STEM students when presenting at universities and colleges. They also make sure the programming includes access to people in the tech industry. “Our employer discovery sessions, which are customized webinars for scholars to attend and ask questions, feature executives from the tech world or from the tech divisions within the respective organizations. We are deeply committed to bridging the visibility gap between Black talent and employers, especially in fields where there is glaring underrepresentation,” says Nigela. 

At TECHNATION, we’ve started working with Onyx Initiative to drive forward our mutual efforts. In March, Wayne Purboo was a panellist in our Diversity and Meaningful Mentorship talk at FutureWave, a two-day event exploring how we can shape Canada’s future workforce. More recently, we’ve been looking at ways to eliminate barriers and raise the profile of the Career Ready wage subsidy program in order to encourage more Black students to leverage the program, while also working to create new opportunities to promote the program with employers.  

How You Can Get Involved with Onyx Initiative 

If your company is committed to diversity in hiring and eager to recruit top-tier Black talent, Onyx Initiative wants to partner with you! Reach out to Keenan Lewis Jeppesen, Director of Outreach, at keenan@onyxinitiative.org for more information. And be sure to stay connected through social media—they’re on InstagramTwitterFacebook and LinkedIn—and sign up for their newsletter to stay up-to-date on any new opportunities.