Students and alumni trickled into the Desautels Hall in the Rotman School of Management building on the morning of January 18 to attend the Black Career Conference (BCC).
Now in its second year, the BCC is a student-led effort by the Black Students’ Association (BSA), the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and Black Rotman Commerce (BRC).
Rotman Commerce students Jeffrey Fasegha, Zainab Hamid, Judson Asiruwa, Ayesha Mohammed, and Jasmine Ali were on the organizing team of the conference. Amie Gibbs and Apefa Adjivon, representatives of the BSA, curated several workshops, while NSBE representative Mohammed Hirole liaised with 20 volunteers.
The inaugural BCC took place last March and saw close to 100 attendees. The conference is free and open to students and recent graduates from any postsecondary institution.
Many companies now have “diversity and inclusion initiatives,” said Jeffrey Fasegha, the founder of the BCC. “And these companies talked about not being able to find Black talent, but we’re right here.”
Black individuals are largely underrepresented in high-paying sectors, including finance and technology.
Fasegha, a finance student, brainstormed the idea for a Black career conference in 2017 as a first-year student.
“What I found is [that for] a lot of people, by the time they identify what they want to do, and they say, ‘that’s what I want to do,’ and they try and find out how to get in, it’s too late,” said Fasegha.
According to Fasegha, the goal of the conference is to make networking and mentorship opportunities as accessible as possible, which is part of the reason that they do not charge participants.
“For me it’s about networking with people that I share a lot of similarities with… I’ve come to realize that networking is really important,” said Rotman MBA student Amariam Ukala, “I’m trying to make a transition from manufacturing to consulting and I’m just exploring every single avenue I can to learn more about the industry.”
There were a total of 13 workshops for participants to attend which dealt with different sectors, including asset management, entrepreneurship, medicine, consulting, and visual media.
During the asset management workshop, Dennis Mitchell, Starlight Investments’ CEO and Chief Investment Officer, addressed a group of 20 participants. Mitchell held a workshop and noted that there was a mere three students in the room during the inaugural BCC.
Sharine Taylor, a UTSC alum and writer, spoke to participants in the visual media workshop.
“The reasons why I thought it was necessary to come to this specific event was… to share resources around Black folks,” said Taylor.
“A lot of the times we’re shut out of spaces, or we don’t get access to spaces. So events like these are cool because you can have a space to share amongst folks that share the same heritage.”
After the first conference, the organizing team sent out surveys for feedback from participants.
One student responded that it was “the first time she’s ever seen a Black judge and now… her dreams are a reality… She [saw that] she can actually do this if [she wants] to because other people have inspired her to do the same,” said Fasegha.
Fasegha said that of the 100 individuals who attended the 2019 conference, 20 per cent of attendees landed interviews with companies that were at the event, and 15 per cent of those who interviewed scored a full-time offer.
This time around, the number of participants grew from 100 to 231. In fact, according to Fasegha, one participant was offered a position directly after she attended the conference’s politics workshop.
The conference ended with a keynote speech by Claudette McGowan, the Chief Information Officer at the Bank of Montreal, who discussed her career path and the importance of mentorship, among other things.
“I think the one thing that I like to tap into is around sponsorship and mentorship,” McGowan said. “I implore you to find yourself people who care about you.”
Editor’s Note (12:17 pm, February 1): This article has been updated to include descriptions of the organizing team and representatives from the NSBE and BSA.