Over the past few years, diversity has been a recurring theme around the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. And while there have been some concrete steps taken to lead the industry forward at the festival in previous years – the Glass Lion, for example, or Unilever’s launch of the #Unstereotype policy last year – much of it has been of the vague, hand-wavy, unsubstantial virtue-signalling variety.
At Cannes Lions 2017, however, there was a noticeably shift towards nuance and substance – as well as an acknowledgement that improving diversity went beyond gender issues.
At the IPG Women’s Breakfast, for example, the key theme was intersectionality - the idea that one’s gender interacts with other identity markers, such as ethnicity, class, education, religion and disability. There are no monolithic groups and different identity factors may create barriers or privilege in different contexts.
The breakfast kicked off with some fascinating research from National Geographic and Refinery29 that highlighted the scale of the issue faced by agencies internally, in terms of HR and recruitment, as well as externally in terms of not treating women as a single, monolithic entity. The research also highlighted some uncomfortable truths – that while 50% of the 4000 women surveyed said they understood that diverse leadership was important, only 22% said that they felt it was important to have women of colour in leadership roles. This statistic shows that solely focusing on gender as a route to diversity is not enough and that many women are not as supportive as they could be.
The breakfast also included an interview with Halle Berry, who spoke about how troubled and upset she was by the ‘blackout’ at the Academy Awards a year and a half ago and how it had spurred her on to direct and produce more and to more actively push the Academy in terms of diversity.
Another guest speaker at the breakfast highlighted just how and why an intersectional approach to diversity is important. Comedian and actor Maysoon Zayid, a Muslim woman of Palestinian descent who also has cerebral palsy, had the audience in stitches (at one point jokingly offering herself as a brand spokesperson as she covers all the diversity bases) while highlighting some of the most egregious examples of underrepresentation in the media. She said that people with disability are the ‘largest minority in the world’, around 20% of people have either a visible or invisible disability but of people shown on screen, only 2% have a disability. And of those disabled characters shown, 90% are played by non-disabled women.
“If a wheelchair user can’t play Beyonce, Beyonce can’t play a wheelchair user,” she laughed.
The issue of disability was also reflected in the We Are the Superhumans film for Channel 4’s Paralympic coverage. President of the Film Jury, Deutsch’s Pete Favat said that the film ‘pushed humanity forward’. He hoped that it would be a watershed moment for the industry, which still has a lot of ground to cover when it comes to disability.
“I think that this piece, which is another reason why we chose it, kicked the doors wide open and threw the windows open and let the fresh air in. I think that if there’s something that’s going to start a new conversation,” he said.
“And I completely agree that disability is something that we can focus on. If you look at the stats and you look at diversity and gender issues in your employment and you look at disability issue , it’s far below everything else. I think we’re going to see a lot more movement in this area.”
Other big winners of the week – namely Fearless Girl – showed that the issue of diversity is not a niche concern. Jaime Robinson, CCO at Joan, was on the Titanium and Integrated jury, said that jurors were keen to reward work that treated female audiences as complex, whole people. That’s why the Kenzo film ‘My Mutant Brain’ also found itself in the Titanium category, despite being of a somewhat more traditional medium than people are used to seeing there.
“As a Titanium jury we felt we had the opportunity to award not just format but content of the work,” she said. “And this piece from Kenzo really looked at the audience differently. From years, decades, this industry has treated women like mindless purchasing machines and not really given them the respect of acknowledging them as fully formed human beings with hopes and dreams and frustrations. And this year with Fearless Girl and Kenzo it was a watershed moment for how we actually portray women in advertising. And we as a group felt that we could see our industry finally giving women the courtesy of creativity and craft, and we wanted to award that. And we’re really excited for what it inspires next.”
More Than Panels
Beyond the headline speakers and big winners, something that was also noticeable at this year’s Cannes Lions were the smaller, more concrete initiatives from individual agencies and organisations pushing for greater diversity rather than just talking about it.
DDB, for example, brought The Phyllis Project to the Croisette – an initiative named after Phyllis Robinson, the first female copy chief in U.S. history. 12 female creatives and recently-minted creative directors identified as future creative leaders were brought to Cannes to undergo a packed programme of mentorship, training and networking. Half of the participants went down to the LBB & Friends Beach for some media training with LBB’s Editor in Chief.
During the week, FCB Global partnered with the I.D.E.A. Initiative to identify and celebrate people of colour attending the festival. “Recognising the worldwide industry influence of Cannes, where creatives are celebrated and awarded for their work, this was the absolute perfect place to launch a movement such as #CreativityInColor. FCB strives to grow our family of diverse professionals and, more importantly, move the industry forward. We’re proud to be I.D.E.A.’s first-ever partner and encourage other agencies to join us,” said FCB Worldwide CEO Carter Murray.
Then there was the inaugural VOWSS advertising showcase
, highlighting great work from female directors and creative directors – a sold out event last Wednesday. And, catching up with the #FreeTheBid team for a glorious get together for 'Cannes Lionnesses', it was glorious to see such a fantastic, creative group of women of all ages, from all over the world come together in the spirit of mutual support and celebration. And #FreeTheBid has been a great example of concrete action this year that it's hard not to join the dots between that movement and the general trend of a more active Cannes in terms of addressing diversity in the industry.
Still Some Way to Go
But despite the progress, there’s still a long way for the industry to go. J. Walter Thompson, for example, has created a ‘Female Filter
’ to illustrate just how few of the winners at Cannes have female creative lead. For example, of the Film Lions winners, only 14% had female creative directors. Of the Cyber Lions, only 16% had a female creative director.
I was shocked (though not particularly surprised) to hear about the continued push back from some of the more prehistoric corners of the production world some dinosaurs fear that once they've been pushed to listen to and work with women they'll then have to start listening to and caring about gay people, trans people, people of colour. In other words, they'll have to start taking diversity seriously and go beyond the odd token women. Oh, the horror, indeed.
What’s more, while the issue of gender equality in creative leadership is very much on the table – and Cannes is crammed with special events about and for women – race, class and the heinous under representation of people with disability are still just surfacing and beginning to be taken seriously.