How to make measurable progress toward diversity and inclusion at Cannes Lions
The program and speaker lineup at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this year boasted plenty of conversations about diversity, inclusion and representation. Across from the Carlton Hotel, Inkwell Beach, named in honor of the section of shore on Martha’s Vineyard frequented for decades by African-Americans who couldn’t swim elsewhere, hosted a week of panels featuring powerful and vocal people of color and women, including CBS’ Gayle King and model and businesswoman Naomi Campbell.
But almost as one, speakers called for results and action, not just more conversation about potentially improving hiring systems or planning new diversity initiatives. Ad Age spoke with three D&I advocates and brand representatives about how the industry can make measurable, concrete progress.
While there’s been plenty of lip service paid to inclusivity efforts, brands and agencies touting their progress often have little to no data to back up their assertions. Without a strong rubric for what a diverse workplace actually looks like, it’s too easy to make excuses for failing to improve, and companies can waste time, money and effort on initiatives that don’t work.
“We need to hold all people managers accountable for being inclusive leaders,” Carol Watson, senior director, global advisory services at management consulting firm Diversity Best Practices, told Ad Age. “Inclusive leadership is necessary to make sure all voices are heard, to make sure there’s no one missing.”
That means that leaders will be on the hook for making sure that they are measuring outcomes—tracking whether new hires are being pulled from underrepresented groups and if those selections are being made from candidate slates that are diverse enough, whether women and people of color and other minorities are being promoted and retained, and why they may be leaving.
“A lot of times we don’t have the data to even know what the gaps are we’re looking to fill,” Watson says. “Is it women? It may not be. Is it women of a certain level?”
But while change needs to come from the top, it can be difficult sell for some managers who are more focused on their own bottom line, she adds. “People are often afraid of the word ‘accountability’ because they’re afraid they feel like it’s going to interfere with their bonus.”
Instagram unveiled a colorful, light-bending installation at the festival. “Where the Rainbow Ends” used the light spectrum as a metaphor for diversity—a prism can split white light into an array of colors.
The exhibit commemorated Pride Month as well as the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. It was created by Instagrammer Germans Ermičs, an artist who often works in glass—a reference to Instagram owner Facebook’s sponsorship of the Glass Lion, awarded to creative work that address issues of social justice and cultural change.
LGBTQ people have “moved from being primarily the creative forces in production and being behind the camera to being in front of the camera as well,” Damien Baines, experiential marketing lead at Instagram tells Ad Age. Members of the community were traditionally only welcome in roles behind the scenes. Being in the spotlight meant hiding their authentic selves, he says, though that is beginning to change.
“I’ve been personally encouraged by figures like Billy Porter and Lena Waithe that are doing some amazing work and being very expressive and just naturally who they are, says Baines. “They’re being embraced for that.”
But real change, he adds, is yet to come. “I think we will have achieved true success when a person is just free to choose [their role] based on preference and what they want to do, not because of any limitation or restriction.”
There’s an oft-cited study from management consulting firm McKinsey & Company that lays out a business case for improving workplace diversity. But it doesn’t tell the whole story, Heide Gardner, chief diversity & inclusion officer at The Interpublic Group of Cos., tells Ad Age.
“Representation doesn’t equate with participation,” she says. Businesses hoping to improve the diversity of their workforce merely to improve their bottom lines miss the point of inclusivity and can risk alienating the very people they want to attract. “We’re having to deal with tokenism in our work in as much as we have to deal with it in our workforces.”
Rather than quarterly earnings, the real catalyst for change is in the C-suite, according to Gardner, and representation at the top is in short supply. “The odds of a black woman or Latino woman or Asian woman becoming executive level are almost worse than they would be randomly,” she says. “You have a better chance if people are picking names out of a hat than if you hang in with the industry.”
But there are plenty of people in the pipeline poised to move up if the opportunity is presented. “That’s important because we’re in striking distance in terms of moving women up—and let me say that means white women primarily—and it’s just a matter of choice,” she adds. All that is needed is for people with the power to effect change to actually value making their organizations more diverse and then acting on it.
“When you have a good slate of candidates,” she says, “it just boils down to executive will about who they’re going to hire.”