It is Black History Month, and every day this month, The Message is 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.
Dania Sonin always loved writing, and when she found herself unemployed she decided to add front-end web design to her skillset—spending a full year devouring online resources. Dania’s been in the digital marketing game since 2014, but has been building websites since she was a kid. “My dad has been a web designer since the 90s,” she says. “So I always had a couple of skills in my back pocket, though I’d only ever built websites casually.”
Dania was lucky enough to get an interview at a meal planning company for data entry and general support. “I can’t lie. At that point, I needed the money,” she says. But during the interview, she impressed them with her web design portfolio and WordPress knowledge; they took a leap of faith and asked her to redesign their blog. It launched Dania into the intertwined worlds of digital marketing, content, and web design.
She hasn’t had a BIPOC mentor until recently. “Growing up mixed, you just kind of get used to nobody looking like you,” she says. Now, Dania sees her current boss Melanie Piard (who was featured in last year’s series), as a mentor and professional confidant who has helped push her work further and grow her professional network. “Not to mention, it’s just nice to be able to talk to somebody who’s been through it,” Dania says.
Dania’s proudest achievement? Pitching makeup as a new subject for a quiz site. That month, she got 200 million page views on her content. Along with her boss’ respect, she adds.
Dania says that being lighter-skinned means she hasn’t faced the same levels of racism as her darker-skinned Black colleagues. “I still don’t feel too comfortable pointing things out, but in my personal life, I do try to educate people when they make mistakes,” she says. “Ignorance isn’t an excuse for racism, but it can be fixed.”
For Dania, accessibility for the disabled and lower socio-economic classes are the next big barriers to inclusion we must tear down. As a copywriter and UX writer, she wants to create interfaces that are easy to use even for those with disabilities like dyslexia or dyscalculia. And she is always pushing to use inclusive language that originates in BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.
Dania advises young Black talent to network, stay current and to trust their own skills. And, she emphasizes, “Take care of your mental health. Let yourself be discouraged. Let yourself feel angry. You don’t have to be ‘strong’ just because you’re Black, especially if you’re a Black woman. It is absolutely okay to step away when you need a break. White people aren’t the only ones who are allowed to be burned out or frustrated.”
For work, Dania shares a video of the first website she ever made as a professional—she redid the homepage, landing pages, and blog. Though the design evolved after she moved on, it’s still largely her original code and designs. “I’m so glad I created something robust enough that it’s still in use,” she says.
Thank you Melanie Piard for nominating Dania for this series.
Derick Badze is a visual communicator, creative director and co-founder of edgeBD Inc., a GTA-based branding and design studio.
He began his career in 2002, as a junior designer at a design/print company. After earning his stripes over eight years, Derick quit, reinvented himself as a freelance designer, and then went on to incorporate his first business in South Africa in 2012, before immigrating to Canada in late 2019. He is now establishing his business and networks here.
Derick was always interested in art, craft and design. “I consider myself a visual learner,” Derick says. “Creating visuals for communication was my destiny.” While he doesn’t have a BIPOC mentor, he sees Nathan Reddy (CCO and founder of GridWorldwide.com) as an industry role model.
Breaking into the industry was fairly simple, probably because Derick began accumulating his “10,000 hours” so young. This early exposure helped him when studying, working, and in his early freelance days. “I always excelled, as my work spoke for itself,” Derick says.
The most amazing thing that has happened to him in the business? “Winning a pitch as a small agency for a large global tech investment company against much larger international agencies… then going on to retain the client for close to a decade. That validation was everything.”
When Derick faces microaggressions he doesn’t see them as personal attacks because he feels they spring from ignorance. “I do call it out, address it and educate the person as it occurs,” he says.
Derrick likes the industry’s diversity and inclusion trajectory because most of his clients want to play their part, but wants to see more people of colour recognized for their contributions and in leadership roles because it will inspire the next generation.
He has two pieces of advice for young Black talent. First, if you can truthfully say that you’re really good at what you do, keep doing it, consistently improve yourself, and stay up to date with industry trends. Secondly, Derick adds, “Don’t be intimidated by competition…keep believing in yourself.”
Derick prioritizes hiring people of colour on every project. “There are a lot of talented people of colour… a lot of them just need a shot to shine.” Derick is also giving back via his own pro bono program to help selected entrepreneurs take their great ideas to market with a brand or website he designs.
Derick is showcasing a logo for the Icomos Youth in Heritage program, which promotes diversity and inclusion in the next generation of Canada’s cultural heritage practitioners. With the number of stakeholders and visual mandatories, it sometimes seemed an impossible task, but Derick managed to tick almost every box on the wish list, satisfying the brief and all the stakeholders. “That was a very rewarding moment,” he says.
My thanks to Linda Andross for nominating Derick.