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Celebrating Black History Month, Insights from Sabrina Clarke Duffy, Senior VP at Hotspex

Celebrating Black History Month, Insights from Sabrina Clarke Duffy, Senior VP at Hotspex
Hotspex Media Team

As we honour Black History Month, we recognize the continued significance of discussions on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. At Hotspex Media, we had the opportunity to explore the personal story of Sabrina Clarke Duffy, our Senior Vice President.

In our interview, Sabrina graciously shared her journey as a Black female entrepreneur.
Q: Can you tell us about your experience and journey as a Black female entrepreneur while we celebrate Black History Month?

Sabrina: The first thing we should acknowledge is that everyone's journey is different. So when we speak about the Black Community as one entity, it's really important to understand that we all have different backgrounds and stories. Some of us are first generation and our parents and our grandparents journeyed from other countries to the Western world. My family, for example, immigrated from Jamaica to England and then I moved from England to Canada for a work opportunity. So that's my journey. I think it's important to note that how we view the world will be born out of our unique past experiences.

As a researcher, I was very fortunate to have a very outspoken manager. He was very wise in giving me some great career advice. The first thing he said to me was:

“Sabrina, you're young, smart, a female, good-looking and black. And so at any point in your career, one or a combination of these things may negatively affect you. Know that it will likely have nothing to do with you but more so to do with other people's insecurities.” 

At the time, I remember being shocked that this was what lay ahead. But looking back and reflecting on my journey, I think he gave me awareness that has been instrumental in setting me up for success. It meant that if there was a situation where I couldn't quite grasp what was happening; why was I not invited to the meeting when I was leading the business? or I worked so hard this year why is it not reflected in my performance review? I found comfort in knowing that it was inclined to be a ‘them’ issue and not a ‘me’ issue. Thankfully, I have a lot of faith, so I kept going. 

That insight into ‘the future life of Sabrina’, was extremely powerful; it gave me strength and made me resilient.

I have also been very fortunate to have some amazing role models, many of them female. I feel like they shepherded me through difficult situations, at times without me even knowing. They always had my best interest at heart, so where I am today is because of; my smarts, my passion and my faith. But, it is also because others wanted to help and guide me into the best version of myself, and for that, I am very grateful.

Interviewer: That’s awesome and I love how you touched on the intersection between being Black, female, smart and attractive – all of these things that can impact how others view us in our journey and success. 

Q: How has your experience helped Hotspex achieve and sustain inclusivity?

Reader Note: Sabrina gives a warm smile as she shares her response. 

Sabrina: I feel like Hotspex was an inclusive organisation before I got here. If you look at the personnel that we have in the business, we clearly over-index on Black/Indigenous/People of Colour (BIPOC) and that's a testament to the organisation. I’m delighted to work at an organisation where I get to see the colours of the world within the working environment. 

We frequently have events where we celebrate the diverse cultures within the organisation. We recently celebrated Chinese/Lunar New Year and this was led by a group of employees from our Toronto and Shanghai offices who told us about their childhood experiences and how they celebrate the Lunar Year, which was unifying. I am appreciative of the senior business leaders who support me, as I use my craft to advocate for the Black Community. I often blog about the subject matter and continue to give a voice to those who, in some instances, are unheard. 

Of course, there is always more that can be done and I think the business is constantly looking for ways to be more fluid. 

Interviewer: Not only does it appear that Hotspex is over-indexing on BIPOC folks in the workplace, but also women in leadership, which is amazing.

Q: What are you doing in your personal life to celebrate Black History Month?

Sabrina: My family and I have done a few things to remind ourselves of the journey, story, and history of Black People during Black History Month. One thing we did was watch a show called 'Three Little Birds' on BritBox. It's a story about Jamaicans immigrating to England, which was particularly meaningful for me as it reminded me of my grandmother's journey from Jamaica to England. 

Reader Note: She looks up, closes her eyes and smiles as she reflects on her emotions when watching the show. 

Sabrina: The show allowed me to reflect on my grandmother’s struggles and what she endured as she adapted to British culture. Signs in windows that read: No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs, was an unnerving view of how Black People were classified during the early 1950s.  

Another thing we did was watch the movie ‘Wish’ with my son. The lead character, Asha, is a little Black girl with braids in her hair like his Mum. It presented itself as another opportunity for my son to see representation on TV and specifically in a Disney movie. 

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

Reader Note: She takes a deep breath, looks up, and gently smiles. 

Sabrina: The advice I would give to my younger self is to 'stay the course.' I became a VP when I hit 30ish, not because I had set that as a goal, but because I lived my life taking it day by day, seeing every day as a challenge and a new opportunity. As a foster child, I was always fighting for survival and that seeped into my career. It was late in my career when a counsellor finally told me it was okay to stop fighting and to exhale. So, to young Sabrina, I would say, 'Stay the course, it's going to be okay. You're going to be just fine.'

Interviewer: I appreciate that sharing this probably took a degree of vulnerability, so thank you. 

Sabrina: You are welcome. A story is a story, and a journey is a journey – I never look back and worry about the scars from my past. It’s the reason why I am who I am today.

Q: What advice would you give to young black females getting started on their entrepreneurial journey?

Sabrina: The advice I would give to young Black females embarking on their entrepreneurial journey is to first ask themselves, 'Who would you be if you were unburdened?' 

Reader Note: She takes a moment to pause. 

Sabrina: We often live our lives burdened by problems, hurdles, challenges, and obstacles. If we could remove all of that noise, who would we be? Aspiring to be that unburdened person is what I encourage the future generation to aim for. When I asked myself this question, I realised that when I'm unburdened, I am Lovable, Innovative, (a)Vibe and an Entrepreneur (LIVE). I feel like I'm living my best life when I'm unburdened. So, I would encourage anyone out there to find a way to unburden themselves because when we're unburdened, we are the best version of ourselves.

Interviewer: Yes, that’s amazing and it’s a deep question to ask yourself to be more introspective, and I definitely agree, you ARE a vibe!

Q: Can you choose one of Hotspex's core values (Courage, OneTeam, Resilience, or Empowerment) and speak to how you embody this in your personal life or on your career journey?

Sabrina: While I've touched on all of these values in my journey and story today, I would say that Courage and Resilience particularly align with my practice areas as the head of Communication and Innovation. These are new strategic pillars where we see opportunities in the marketplace and are poised to grow. To take on this task requires Courage, as there will likely be many closed doors and challenges as we embark on this journey to win new business. I need to demonstrate Courage to the business daily and I look to my team to do the same. 

Resilience is also crucial as we are in building mode, which means facing internal and external hurdles, both mentally and physically. We will need to work hard and be Resilient to overcome these obstacles. 

Reader Note: She lets out a warm smile.

Sabrina: I could argue that all of Hotspex's values, including OneTeam and Empowerment are necessary for success in these business units. I can't do this alone, it requires a team effort; support from my team, other business units, and our President and CEO. The values reinforce who we are at Hotspex and what needs to be part of our DNA to succeed.

We thank Sabrina for her openness and vulnerability in sharing her experiences. Her reflections on resilience, mentorship, and celebrating diversity reflect the importance of having meaningful conversations about Black Culture and history and its intersectionalities. 

Hotspex Media recognizes and is committed to fostering these vital conversations beyond February to shape an inclusive and equitable workplace for our Black Community.

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