Cannes shows diversity in front of the camera, but not as much behind it

Most of the winning work this year was purpose-driven, but many of the faces accepting the awards were white and male.

Even without the yachts and rosé, Cannes is a thrilling time to sit back and celebrate the incredible work the industry has produced in the past year.

This year that experience was even more special, as agencies and clients reminisced on the pressures and difficulties of bringing relevant, impactful work to market during the COVID-19 pandemic.

From AMV BBDO and Libresse/Bodyform’s #WombStories, which showcases the many facets of what it’s like to live with a womb, to MasterCard’s True Name initiative, which allows transgender people to use their chosen names on their credit cards, to Telenor Pakistan and Ogilvy’s digital birth registration app that helps people access social security and public education, making a tangible impact on the world drove a majority of this year’s winning work.

But watching the Lions Live virtual conference, I couldn’t help but notice the number of white, male faces, especially from the U.S., Europe and Australia, accepting the awards and giving speeches on behalf of their teams. (Shout out to the number of women on screen, but mostly, again, white.)

The industry is finally understanding the work we produce has huge potential for positive impact beyond driving business results for a client. Just look at McCann Paris’ Bread Exam campaign for the Lebanese Breast Cancer Foundation, which helps destigmatize self-breast examinations among Muslim women, or FCB Chicago and The City of Chicago’s Boards of Change, which reconfigured boarded-up storefronts during protests after the murder of George Floyd into voting booths, driving record turnout.

But just like the foundation of a building, what lies underneath and behind a campaign can be more important than what’s on the surface. And what’s underneath is still a pervasive culture of white male creative leadership.

These creative leaders are incredibly talented and deserve to be recognized for their award-winning work. But wouldn’t it be more impactful for the industry to put some fresh, diverse faces in front of the camera, accepting these awards, so others like them can see their own images reflected back and feel like attaining the same level of success in this industry is possible?

Having diversity in the jury room is just as important. I hosted a Cannes Lions Live debrief session yesterday and was relieved to see that one of the judges I was interviewing was a Black creative. This person played a critical role in helping the jury recognize a piece of work entirely focused on Black culture that will go on to win a Titanium Lion (don’t worry, I won’t ruin the surprise).

It’s clear from the incredible campaigns that are winning this year that the industry understands its role and responsibility in positively influencing society. It’s time to turn that progress inward and ensure we give a platform and visibility to diverse creatives to inspire the next generation of a genuinely more diverse industry.

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