Cannes Lions apologizes after accusations over diversity
Just a month out from its 2021 International Festival of Creativity, Cannes Lions has come under fire for lack of diversity by a former dean of its educational program.
The accusations began in a Twitter thread started on Sunday by Abraham Abbi Asefaw, former co-dean of Cannes Lions’ learning program the Roger Hatchuel Academy (RHA), which is designed to introduce young creatives to the industry.
Asefaw, who is chairman of Dubai-based design company LW, was co-dean of the Roger Hatchuel Academy for five years. However, he wrote that after his co-Dean and he ended their partnership, he wrote to Cannes and suggested they choose just one Dean for the program, instead of having two, and “for that person to be a POC.”
He continued: “I have now been removed as Dean at the Cannes Lions School. Making the list of Deans ALL WHITE. Yes, even the Roger Hatchuel Academy - the most diverse place at Cannes Lions.”
He explained that when he took this up with Cannes Lions, he received a message from Steve Latham, head of talent and training, that read: “With regards to RHA, my decision was selfish and not thought through and for that I apologise. I was presented with a quick fix solution during a stressful time but in hindsight, I would handle this differently.”
Asefaw continued: “I can handle not continuing as Dean regardless of my decade long commitment to the organisation and being their ‘go-to’ for anything diversity. But what I can't handle, is the next generation of creatives, from all over the World, lacking representation because of a ‘QUICK FIX.’
In his Twitter thread, Asefaw also describes his efforts to help the organization with its diversity program: “In '19 Cannes launched their ‘Most Ambitious Diversity & Inclusion Program to Date’ as a response to ‘less than 2% of attendees being POC or from underrepresented communities.' There was a massive media push & POC speakers, myself included, became poster children of this ‘change.’
“Through my network, I brought in POC industry leaders from the whole World to teach & inspire the 40 students in this program. Those efforts were noted and Cannes saw, in connection to their '19 diversity push, an opportunity to market RHA ‘the most diverse place at Cannes Lions."
Asefaw has subsequently published the full transcript of his tweets on Medium. After his comments on Twitter began to attract attention on Monday, with some using the hashtag #comeoncannes, Cannes Lions responded to his comments on social media including Twitter and Instagram, writing: “We’re addressing everything Abraham Asefaw has said very intentionally, and welcome his criticisms to ensure a mistake like this is not made again. We’ve reached out to him, but would like to offer him a public apology.”
"We’ve worked with Abraham for over 10 years, and should he wish to communicate with us in the future, we’d be more than happy to work with him, and others, to ensure that we do not just aim for diversity, inclusion and equality – but achieve diversity, inclusion and equality."
It added: “This is a particularly disappointing moment for us at Lions, as the organization has been proud to appoint increasingly diverse panels of jurors and talent.”
Asefaw responded late last night, posting messages of support from RHA alumni and tweeting: “I’m not ignoring @Cannes Lions public apology, but while digesting it and before addressing it, I want to highlight some of the messages from the RHA alumni as they so vividly highlight WHY representation matters.”