Sharon Hector: 30 years in advertising inspired her Underestimated documentary

It is Black History Month, and every day this month, The Message will be sharing Gavin Barrett’s short profiles of Black professionals from across the industry—marketing, advertising, PR, media and production. Barrett writes the profiles as a way to “fight invisibility,” an exercise in representation for an industry where representation must get better.

It’s BHM Day 8, and it’s Sharon Hector‘s moment. Sharon has been in advertising for over 30 years, playing a variety of roles—from receptionist, to traffic manager, to content project manager, to creative resource manager.

Along the way, she found herself on almost every social committee, from United Way drives, to Clean Air Commute, to extravagant summer parties—her vivacity a clear fit for the fun that can be had in advertising.”I was given huge budgets to throw fabulous functions,” she says. In particular, Sharon recalls one Caribana-themed event called Ogi-bana that she masterminded years ago at Ogilvy. “It was epic,” she says.

Sharon is plain-spoken about how she deals with microaggressions and racism. Her strategies vary depending on the reaction required. “I smile and ignore it. Or I smile and retain it, and then point it out when appropriate without trying to offend the person.” When called for, she asks probing questions about the other person’s knowledge of the Black community; this usually reveals the ignorance that lies behind a slight. Of course, there’s always the option to “rage on the person and show them the race card.”

Sharon is not afraid to criticize popular but cosmetic “diversity fixes” (quotes mine). She finds the current trend of throwing as many people of colour as possible into ads frustrating, because she doesn’t believe it will make the industry more inclusive. Nor will hiring unqualified persons because of their skin colour.

At the same time, Sharon points out that for a white art director/director or inclusion and diversity manager to “direct me how to walk into a room or how to behave when gathering with my friends… it’s almost impossible.” In other words, change must come on both sides of the camera, or it will remain superficial and short-lived.

To provoke discussion and action, Sharon has created a book/documentary called Underestimated. It covers her 30 years working for what she now says “used to be” one of the top agencies in the world, and offers a perspective of the Black experience in corporate Canada.

We learn how race affects position and opportunity, how Black employees are left to navigate workplaces with little or no support, and how they are often passed over for opportunities. We hear from a mother whose son was shot in the back by police, two female entrepreneurs, a prominent Black copywriter turned artiste, and a filmmaker.

As if that’s not enough Sharon is also a co-founder of ActOne Event Creators, a job that she enjoys so much, she says “I would do it for free.”

To young Black talent, Sharon says, “If this is the business you’re passionate about, do not let anyone, including your family, tell you differently. Learn your craft and be the best at it.”

Sharon’s personal mantra is “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.” That right there is steel. My thanks to Fred Roberts for nominating Sharon for this series.


Gavin Barrett