Diversity and Inclusion at Cannes Lions – All Talk, No Action

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INFLUENCER: ELVIS’ Camilla Yates and Keelie Lynch call for tangible progress towards equality, not just lip service
Diversity and Inclusion at Cannes Lions – All Talk, No Action
2019 was looking like a good year for diversity at Cannes Lions. ‘Embracing inclusion, equality & diversity’ was number four of ten key themes for this year’s festival. Industry publications ran articles such as ‘Cannes Lions looks to boost diversity at 2019 festival’ and Inkwell Beach was set to open, showcasing the theme of ’Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’. As two Cannes first-timers who had heard the festival described as a ‘white male stag party’ the previous year, we hoped that we were about to witness the birth of a new era of equality in the South of France.

In the run up to the festival, a look at the speakers on the Cannes programming list indicated that things were changing from inside the festival organiser’s walls. Sure, there was a significant proportion of middle-aged white men on the list, but the overall line-up was representative of a diverse range of people, with a diverse range of views. As two females who wholeheartedly believe that diverse, inclusive workplaces drive better creative results, we were ready to be inspired. And on that front, we weren’t disappointed.

The majority of the talks we attended did focus on diversity and inclusion, or nodded to it, even if that wasn’t the primary topic being discussed. The Unstereotype Alliance was visible throughout the festival, running a hugely useful masterclass on a framework for assessing how inclusive a piece of creative really is. Later in the week, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the initiative’s leader, received the Lionheart award. The work of Unstereotype Alliance, and others like it, is proof that when major organisations collaborate towards a common goal, real change can happen.

Much of the most celebrated work also focused on inclusion of one kind or another. Microsoft’s ‘Change the Game’, IKEA’s ‘ThisAbles’, Wavio’s’ See Sound’ and Google’s ‘Creatability’ were Grand Prix winners which helped to level the playing field for people with disabilities.  Volvo’s ‘Eva Initiative’, Gazeta.pl’s, ‘The Last Ever Issue’ and Nike’s ‘Dream Crazier’ promoted gender equality. And Grand Prix winners Black & Abroad’s ‘Go Back to Africa’ and Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ both explored racial prejudice in order to stand up for black communities.

But away from the talks and the work, the outlook was somewhat different. Walking around the Palais, watching teams go on stage to collect awards, and talking to people on the beaches, Cannes Lions still felt like an old school adland stereotype.

While it seemed like there was more equal gender representation in attendance than we’d heard about in previous years, there were few senior females in attendance, and many more men going up to accept awards than women. In fact just 9.09% of Cannes Lions trophies went to agencies with an equal gender split

One female Head of Media we spoke to said that she was disappointed not to have met any women of the same age as the many older men she’d encountered, and as no other females from her organisation had taken the opportunity to come to the festival, she was ‘on her own, flying the flag for the women’. A male founder of an animation shop said that while he’d seen lots of talk about diversity and inclusion, Cannes Lions was still ‘a very white, male sausage party’.

Despite the Festival’s reputation as a global hub for creativity, the vast majority of attendees are still white. Last year, AdWeek reported that less than 2% of attendees are people of colour or members of underrepresented communities. While we haven’t seen official statistics for 2019 yet, it felt like that figure could have been even lower this year. The Festival has taken steps to address this with its See It Be It initiative, which provides a complimentary pass to up-and-coming female creatives from around the world. However, what we didn’t see was much practical advice on how agencies could increase diversity within their own ranks. When we asked a panel of speakers what agencies and brands could do to increase BAME representation at Cannes next year, we were met with uncomfortable looks, and a comment that ‘this isn’t a diversity panel’. And while there was much more diverse representation in terms of both speakers and attendees at Inkwell Beach, Cannes’ first large-scale activation on the topic, there didn’t appear to be much awareness of this fringe event among the largely white audience in the Palais.

So, in essence, this is a call to action. For agencies to stop just talking about diversity and inclusion, and start doing something to make it a reality in our workplaces. To set up internal working groups to tackle this with tangible outputs. To find new ways to seek out new talent and start welcoming recruits from non-standard backgrounds. To make our industry a more welcoming place for minorities, and to start leveraging the cognitive diversity that naturally follows to make better, more effective creative work. If we embrace that journey now, we might find that in Cannes 2020, we don’t just see a diverse mix of work and programming, but of actual, real people. 

At ELVIS, we’re making this happen in a number of ways: running initiatives like our free one-day ‘Outspoken’ workshop for LGBTQ+ young people looking to get into advertising; working with organisations such as Media Trust to offer career guidance and mentorship to a diverse range of young people; partnering with Jolt to offer internships to creative teams from minority backgrounds; signing up to Free the Work to enable more female directors and creatives to pitch for our production briefs; and sending all our casting briefs to Zebedee Management for more inclusive representation in our ads.

We know it’s not an easy task and appreciate we still have a lot to learn ourselves, but our hope is that Cannes 2020 is more representative of the true potential of the creative industry, not just an outdated white, male stereotype.
Camilla Yates is planning director and Keelie Lynch is senior account director at ELVIS.
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Genres: People

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