The Biggest Message from Cannes: When It Comes to Diversity, We Need Less Talk, More Action

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Cover image for  article: The Biggest Message from Cannes: When It Comes to Diversity, We Need Less Talk, More Action

"We've been talking about it so much it seems like a fad," actress Gabourey Sidibe said of diversity during a panel at last week's Cannes Lions Festival.  She makes a great point:  Despite all the sound bites about diversity at Cannes, we didn't hear much about what specific actions were actually in progress. What is being done? And why is it taking so long?

At this year's Cannes Lions, we patted ourselves on the back for doubling the number of female judges in five years (43% of jurors were women this year as compared to 2012's 21%) but only eight of the 23 jury presidents were women and none were women of color.

On one Cannes panel, P&G's Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard shared some shocking stats: "Twenty-eight percent of TV ads negatively portray women, either through some form of objectification, stereotyping, or diminishing character portrayal."

For an industry with unparalleled power to shape culture and the global conversation, we must keep asking ourselves: How can we truly make progress toward equality?  Here are some thoughts:

Step One:  We Must Have Constructive, Disruptive Conversations

The last few weeks have been ripe with examples of communicators who took an old-guard formula and flipped it on its head.  McCann New York's Fearless Girl -- an instantaneous symbol for female resistance -- ultimately took home four Grand Prix and 18 Lions at this year's Cannes Lions.  And the summer superhero blockbuster on everyone's lips this year has been Wonder Woman.  The film had a huge opening weekend easily surpassing The Man of Steel, Thor, Iron Man and other male-centric action movies, defying conventional wisdom that people aren't interested in female superheroes.

Step Two:  We Must Hold Ourselves Publicly Accountable in Hiring Diverse Talent

Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall opened his job recruitment on a global stage and under a bright microscope during the festival.  He put out a call for any non-white employees to send him their book so Airbnb could consider hiring them.  He has already scheduled 30 interviews.

Each of us, as leaders, should appoint ourselves as a Chief Diversity Officer and challenge our teams and each other to recruit talent that force us to think differently.  We've got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable -- in that way we can understand perspectives we never have before and build a better product.

Step Three:  Diversity, Inclusion ... and Belonging

We need to ensure that we are fostering a sense of belonging for all employees.  In the battle for talent, not only should we hire diverse candidates, we should make sure those we do hire are happy and want to stay.  In short, our employees must feel like they belong with the organization.  As leaders, we must create an environment where people feel seen, heard, understood and valued for who they are.

Step Four:  We Must Be a Motivator, Not a Mirror

The best brands don't just reflect culture; they work to shape culture.

When taking the stage to address advertisers, Rev. Jesse Jackson expressed his own sentiments. "You can change the world," he said.  "Your platform is powerful and your power to do good is immense.  Many of you are constrained by what you can't see, what you haven't been exposed to, what you don't know exists."

When it comes to exposing the world to unfamiliar perspectives, the marketing and entertainment industries have immense power … and even more responsibility.  This year, many brands -- like Airbnb, P&G, Unilever, Nike, Equinox, J&J and Mattel -- heeded the charge to not just reflect an increasingly heterogenous audience, but drive the inclusion conversation and push the cultural boundaries with ads featuring empowered LGBT individuals and women.

The time for sweeping diversity policies has arrived, and with it, brands need to put action to their words and use their immense platforms and super powers to defy stereotypes, not perpetuate them.  In the world of inclusion, is your brand going to be a leader or a follower?  The moment to decide is now.

Pictured above: Mainardo de Nardis, CEO, OMD; Carolyn Everson, Vice President Global Marketing Solutions, Facebook; Lisa Sherman, and Tiffany Warren, Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer, Omnicom Group talk about diversity at the OMD Oasis at this year's Cannes Lions Festival.

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