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Finding my footing as a Black student in finance

A reflection on the unique opportunities and challenges I faced in my undergraduate journey
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Jamar Norick is a graduating Rotman Commerce student and the president of Black Rotman Commerce. COURTESY OF JAMAR NORICK
Jamar Norick is a graduating Rotman Commerce student and the president of Black Rotman Commerce. COURTESY OF JAMAR NORICK

On March 19, 2018, my life drastically changed for the better when I found out I was a recipient of the National Scholarship at the University of Toronto. This full-ride scholarship allowed me to materialize my dream of attending business school at the best university in the biggest city in the country. 

I grew up as a child of a single mother in East Vancouver, British Columbia, where the majority of my youth was dedicated to competing in sports. This was common for someone in my situation — especially considering I had the build of someone who would find success in sports, perhaps much more than in academia, let alone high finance. I set out on my path of pursuing business school, armed with my own built up determination and motivation from childhood, and backed by the financial support of the university — the only way I could have ever found myself in a Rotman Commerce classroom.

With a height of six feet and five inches, and being half Black, I was a clear visual outcast in every class I entered. This was not unfamiliar to me, having grown up in Vancouver, but now I was more self-aware about the limitations that identity can have on one’s career. Why was it the case that no one looked like me? Was I in the wrong place? Looking back on these questions today, a couple months away from graduation, I know the answers. In the field of finance, Black people are historically underrepresented for an array of societal reasons, and no, I was not in the wrong place.

It took me a while to find my community in Toronto, but once I did, I found my footing. I was very fortunate to have a number of opportunities to speak publicly on behalf of U of T at several important events in relation to my scholarship, which allowed me to meet mentors who were successful professionals in various fields. This opened my eyes to a key disadvantage that many Black students face when attempting to begin a career in a field in which we are underrepresented. There’s a much smaller likelihood that we will have access to a close connection to a professional in the industry who can guide us from a young age. I didn’t know any investment bankers; I had no contacts in private equity, no family friends in consulting, and no close mutual connection to anyone of the sort. With this lack of connections comes a significant barrier to entry. 

Fortunately, there are people out there who are looking to lend a hand to those who are not from their inner circle, and a few of these remarkable people took me under their wing and mentored me to grow into the person I am today. This was my new professional community, and it allowed me to set goals and take advantage of available opportunities. However, I still needed a social community — one that had others in my shoes.

Back to my earlier question of why no one looked like me in my classes, it turns out that there were others; it just takes time to find each other. I was contacted by the founders of a student group called Black Rotman Commerce (BRC), whose mission is to create a space for Black students in the program to share opportunities, guidance, and support in what is a challenging undergraduate experience for all. This group served as the hub of opportunities for everyone involved, and I am eternally grateful to have found it. 

The BRC allowed me to be aware of recruiting timelines for diverse hires, provided resources for interview preparation, and much more. I attended the first BRC social and one of the first Black Career Conferences — I wanted to be a part of this exciting and fast-growing organization. Years later, as the current president of the BRC, I continue to dedicate my time to fostering an environment where Black students can be adequately prepared to enter the industry and connect with top industry representatives.

Perhaps the most crucial thing I have learned in the context of being Black in business school and the industry is that opportunities for us are out there. The hurdle is that big banks and other related firms are required to hire the best of the best, as these are for-profit corporations at the end of the day. With this, it is paramount that as Black students, we work to put ourselves in a competitive position to be hired. If you can be the best candidate in the interview room, and also come from a diverse background, you have something truly unique to offer a firm that has historically lacked in cultural representation. Through my mentorship from a professional and community perspective, I was able to put myself in a position to be hired from the get go, and I haven’t stopped.

Throughout my undergraduate degree, I am proud to have interned at TELUS, BMO Capital Markets Sales & Trading, and BMOJamar Norick is a graduating Rotman Commerce student and the president of Black Rotman Commerce       Capital Markets Investment Banking. I will be returning full-time to BMO as an investment banking analyst on the Mergers & Acquisitions team upon graduation. I am proud to be Black and I am eager to make a change in an industry where not many of us have succeeded before. While our path is certainly different from our peers, it is still one worth pursuing.