Here Cannes the girls
Impact's Julia Smith asked female bosses to give their thoughts on diversity and whether they saw it in action at Cannes Lions 2019. This is what they said.
Just before Cannes 2015, myself, Lisa Goodchild, Ellie Edwards-Scott, Lisa Menaldo, Melina Jacavou and Maria Cadbury co-founded Digital Leading Ladies. It was created as an informal and inclusive group who were to meet for lunch in Cannes for a relaxed catch up to share experiences, network, debate and support each other.
Four years later and it currently comprises 130+ of the most senior and entrepreneurial women in the digital advertising industry. With members from brands, agencies, tech providers and publishers, the essence of Digital Leading Ladies is to create an interactive group which connects, supports and provides opportunities for business and networking.
The mission of Digital Ladies is Do. Love. Learn and we encourage all of our members to share their experience, provide advice and guidance; and create opportunities for members of the group to be involved in events, speaking engagements and to work together.
The group delivers three events per year including a networking breakfast, a Christmas celebratory lunch and the infamous Cannes Innovations Lunch which was held during Cannes this week.
This year’s lunch was attended by 40 leading ladies. During the lunch, I asked some of these influential female leaders to give their thoughts on diversity and whether they saw it in action at Cannes.
Here are some of their insights.
Maria Cadbury, UK MD Channel Factory: There was a significant backlash against a few 'manels' but this was swiftly rectified and there has been an improvement in the diversity of speakers which is great to see. What has appeared on the agenda alongside diversity is social responsibility by brands and this, alongside brand suitability and brand safety need to be the priorities post Cannes.
Rebecca Blinston-Jones, UK Managing Director MWWPR: I was fortunate enough to attend one of the Cannes Lions CLX round tables with Activision Blizzard Media where I heard directly from the content creators behind the likes of Overwatch and Call of Duty. Their approach to storytelling has evolved to include more diverse voices behind the games themselves leading to the inclusion of at least two LGBT characters in Overwatch. This was the best example of diversity in action that I heard about and I’m afraid to say that there were still a few manels!
Linn Frost, Partner, Truant: Diversity within advertising feels like a topic at the moment rather than an action. A buzz word associated with plus size, gender and race. I've personally had conversations this week about positive discrimination, something I don't believe in, which when said out loud I have discovered is controversial and misunderstood. This does not mean that I don't believe in changing the balance, in fact, it's the opposite. To really change things we should never discriminate, even with good intentions. One observation is that Cannes lacks diversity from an age perspective, we as an industry fail to support younger staff, through training and inclusion. Cannes is seen as a senior manager privilege; this needs to be changed. I am bringing the whole agency next year.
Suzi Broadaway, Hidden: Diversity and Inclusion has been on the agenda at Cannes so naturally the conversation came up over a glass or two of Rose. With various people I met a Cannes we discussed that having a more diverse workforce is a better workforce but alongside this we also discussed how to retain this talent and how to make them feel secure and included in all areas at work. At Hidden our mission is to “create talent and culture strategies to make a better working world” so what could have been a conversation starter initially became a very long rose fuelled chats.
Mary Keane-Dawson, Business Growth Consultant: I do not believe that there has been enough done from a diversity and inclusion perspective at Cannes as there are still too many white male faces.
Cadi Jones, Commercial Director, Beeswax: Yes and no. There have been many sessions about diversity - but often with limited audiences of people already leaning into this space, so “preaching to the choir”. Just walking the Croisette, it’s clear that diversity is not yet reflected in the attendees here.
Fiona Salmon, managing director, UK at 1plusX AG: I wasn't aware it was specifically on an agenda, but it’s good to know it is! Something that I have been discussing here in Cannes is Psychological safety at work, and I think this plays very well into the diversity subject and especially making females feel confident, listened to and appreciated at work. Knowing that you are working within an environment that's supportive of your ideas and where you get listened to is incredibly important and something, we take seriously at 1plusX. We ask our employees questions around this topic and they can feedback to the senior management in a confidential way. It’s really important to our culture of testing and learning and feeling empowered.
Karen Eccles, Digital Sales and Innovation Director, Telegraph: I think we have finally crossed the threshold into a time when Manels are unacceptable. Several of us have been pulled into speaking opportunities at short notice to readdress the gender balance on panels. This is a good start. However, the fact that we need to scramble to balance panels shows we still have a lot of work to do. In terms of age diversity, ethnic diversity and particularly social mobility we’re way behind. Cannes-goers are predominantly a privileged bunch. And what happens to women over the age of 45? If they aren’t a chief exec or business founder, they are worryingly underrepresented.
Tamara Littleton, MD and Founder The Social Element and Polpeo: It is early days, but I have seen some green shoots. I am really pleased that the Pride AM group met here at Cannes and that is hugely important. The Digital Leading Ladies lunch has also brought together amazing women who are all so supportive of each other and so many from our group have been included on the panels and sessions throughout the week. I ran a crisis simulation event with my platform Polpeo, and it was attended by a diverse mix and included a large number from DLL group who came along to show their support.
Jenny Stanley, MD and Founder, Appetite Creative: Diversity has been on the agenda, but it was on the agenda more last year. We have identified ‘manels’ and been frustrated by the lack of females on some of the panels out here. After all, how can we talk about anything with conviction if women who hold 50% of the household buying power are missing from the conversation?
Bethan Crockett, Digital Risk Director, GroupM: Not enough. Would like to see more. Lots of panels are talking about it, but there needs to be more evidence of it in action.
Zuzanna Gierlinska, Head of Programmatic for Europe, Spotify: A lunch like this that brings women from all walks of life and business together, to share, to collaborate and to have no agenda is the best way to put diversity out there.
Melina Jacovou, MD and Founder, Propel London: It is still all about the haves, not the have nots. No real diversity but it is too fragmented. It is why initiatives like Digital Leading Ladies is so important as we welcome every type of woman and we are building a diverse network.
Lisa Goodchild, Founder, Digiwoo: People have tried to make an effort but more still needs to be done. There needs to be deep rooted action to get real people from a diverse background into the space.
Ellie Edwards-Scott, Co-Founder, The Advisory Collective: I’ve been attending Cannes for the past 4 years and Diversity is still on the agenda because unfortunately we are not seeing enough of it in action. There are ‘pockets’ such as the Inkwell Beach or the Digital Ladies Lunch, but from strolling along La Croisette, to sitting in on panel sessions I still see glaring opportunity for the industry to up our inclusivity game whether we’re talking ethnicity, sexuality or disability.
Cannes 2019 didn't disappoint on so many levels: the bars, beaches and parties all provided the right backdrop for business to be done and the conversations were largely positive. We will be back at Cannes Lions Festival in 2020 bigger, better and hopefully more diverse.
Julia Smith is director of communications, Impact