Bank of Nova Scotia and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce say they will fill at least 3.5 per cent of senior executive and board positions in Canada with Black leaders by 2025.

The two banks confirmed they plan to sign the BlackNorth Initiative CEO pledge, the brainchild of a group led by Wes Hall, a prominent Black executive who founded Toronto-based Kingsdale Advisors. Signatories to the pledge agree to hit the 3.5 per cent target within five years and other measures, such as hiring at least five per cent of their student workforce from the Black community.

Two other companies in the S&P/TSX 60 Index, Rogers Communications Inc. and Enbridge Inc., told Bloomberg they will commit to the 3.5 per cent target. Several other firms, including Royal Bank of Canada and Sun Life Financial Inc., said they are still reviewing the BlackNorth pledge.

Royal Bank said earlier this week it’s instituting a policy of filling 30 per cent of open executive positions with Black, indigenous and other people of color.

The most recent census found that Black people made up 3.5 per cent of the population in Canada, where the killing of George Floyd has led to street protests and stirred debate about whether the country is as inclusive as many of its citizens think it is.

At Canada’s six largest banks and two largest life insurance companies, about 10 per cent of top executive roles and eight per cent of non-executive board positions are held by visible minorities, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. But only one of the 188 senior positions at those eight companies is occupied by someone who’s Black -- a CIBC director who lives in Chicago.

“A lot of these companies are going to lose great talent if they do not act, because quite frankly they need those people who are stuck in middle management,” Hall said in an interview with Bloomberg last month. “Once they start leaving in droves it’s going to create a huge void in the company that you just can’t ignore any more.”

The new organization leading the initiative is known as the Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism. In addition to Hall, the coalition is backed by CIBC Chief Executive Officer Victor Dodig, Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. CEO Prem Watsa, and Rola Dagher, president and CEO of Cisco Systems Canada. The group plans to have a virtual summit on July 20.