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.
Time to say “Bonjour, Kristel Dupont.” Even for someone as at-home in communications as Kristel, it was scary to begin work, in 2018, in an industry where Black talent wasn’t as visible.
Rather than let her (very valid) fears of rejection stop her, Kristel says, “I went to interviews as my usual blackity-Black self, and defied “unprofessional hair” stereotypes by wearing my afro, my braids and my heritage proudly.”
Staying true to herself landed her an internship at Sid Lee, and in three years, she went from intern to coordinator to advisor to PR manager for all its Canadian offices.
Kristel’s BIPOC role model is Swab the World co-founder Mai Duong, who trusted her with the foundation’s launch while still an intern. Kristel came through, delivering radio and TV interviews, countless articles, and even front pages, one of which she framed.
It’s a reminder, she says, “that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to, and that there will always be people to support me.”
Kristel counts her boss Katia Aubin as one of those people—she’s had incredible opportunities, like amplifying Cannes-winning Sid Lee projects; collaborating with media like NPR and Fast Company; interviewing Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors; and helping build a conference for a project developed by the United Nations Development Programme, among others.
Kristel’s 2021 highlight was helping amplify Cheekbone Beauty Cosmetic’s November 2021 short film Right the Story, a collaboration with Sid Lee Toronto and Sephora Canada that reclaims the narrative for Indigenous peoples.
“It really touched me. [Cheekbone founder] Jenn Harper is, hands down, one of the most inspiring professionals I’ve had the pleasure of meeting,” Kristel says, laughingly admitting that her love for Cheekbone’s products also helps.
Kristel knows (even citing a 2021 McKinsey & Company study) that the odds are stacked against Black women in the workplace. She says her response to microaggressions and racism depends on the level of bias. “Sometimes, a simple conversation can help uncover someone’s blind spots.” But when it comes to full-on racism, Kristel has learned to remove herself to safety, because simply choosing one’s own happiness is a way of advocating for oneself and others.
Kristel wants the industry to create an environment in which diverse talent thrives. She’s doing everything she can: She helped establish Sid Lee’s Montréal DEI committee, and co-leads it with Garcí Iñigo, VP, account services. She brings a young BIPOC perspective to A2C’s DEI team for Québec advertising, and makes herself available to younger BIPOC talent with questions. “Many who came before helped me… I want to do the same for the generation to come,” she says.
To young Black talent, she says: “Maybe there are still people out there trying to dim your light. But on the flip side, there are also a lot of amazing people willing to elevate you—starting with me. Don’t be scared to be yourself.”
My thanks to Ingrid Enriquez-Donissaint for nominating Kristel for this year’s series, and to Simone O’Mathuna for introducing us last year.