Cannes You Hear Me Roar?

June 29, 2017

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Cannes Lions Women

I don’t speak French. Yet, despite my deficiency, I could easily pick up that the conversation along the Palais last week was “égalité feminine.” As a creative woman in an industry where only 11% of creative leaders are female, I was keen to take notice. It made me question, is this just industry guilt playing out on the grandest of stages?

Don’t get me wrong.

I liked seeing it all unfold.

A lot.

We saw shortlisted work that celebrated an all female ticket.

Barbie She Should Run

We called attention to how women are “manterrupted” on average 7 times more at work than our counterparts.

Woman Interrupted Cannes Campaign Poster

And, we celebrated a defiant Fearless Girl as she stood up to bullish Wall Street’s lack of female representation in boardrooms and take home the coveted Grand Prix.

Fearless Girl Statue

In a blink, my long-standing, self-deprecating joke about needing a “stay at home wife” so I can keep pace with my male counterparts was washed away by this celebration of the value women bring to their jobs. Yet, as spectacular as it was, the feeling was a bit fleeting.  For all the positive energy around women this year, men moderated the majority of presentations I attended at the festival. And, my tally of winners gracing the stage to accept their Lions was – you guessed it – mostly men.

I found this interesting. And, being ever the curious person, I wanted to see how other respected women felt about how “we” showed up this year at Cannes. Shelley Zalis, CEO, The Female Quotient and Founder, Girls’ Lounge was kind enough to lend her POV:

Candy: In general, do you think women showed up in a meaningful way in Cannes this year?

Shelley:  The women in Cannes were all in the Girls’ Lounge so it was a true statement of the power of the pack! The minority felt and acted like the majority. 

Women were sharing their stories, which is so important for creating the culture of care we need in order for real change to happen.

Women were using their voices to keep the conversation going about common themes such as how to lead by bringing your feminine qualities into the workplace, and why it’s so important for leaders to not only talk the talk, but to walk the walk and lead by example to create the change they want to see.

Candy: What were your impressions of the Glass Lions, the award category for addressing issues of gender inequality or prejudice?

Shelley: The Glass Lions were run by Wendy Clark and it was wonderful to have a woman running the group because she brings her feminine qualities of leadership to the table…multi-tasking, efficiency, collaboration, creativity, nurturing. These are all qualities that are so important for successful leadership today. The campaign around Fearless Girl is inspiring to all because it is a shining example of how we can use creativity to draw attention to the push for gender equality on a global scale. 

Candy: Any other takeaways you’re willing to share?

Shelley: We still have a lot of work to do. Advancing equality is a next step change. I do applaud Cannes Lions for ensuring that no winner would be showcasing advertising that objectifies women and think that’s a big step, and a very visible and vocal step in the right direction. 

Diversity extends beyond being just a nice to have, it is a business imperative. Diversity isn’t only about gender or race, but about diversity of mindset. Diverse teams are at an advantage because this is how innovation happens.

After having a week to reflect on my time in Cannes, I return to my earlier question. Was the underlying gender equality theme just lip service or something deeper and enduring? I think the answer is yes. To both. While men continue to represent companies on the stage, brands are changing how they represent and appeal to women in the marketplace. They’re being more conscious in how they portray us in media, how they reach us and even how they include us – implicitly addressing issues of gender inequality or prejudice.

Although shortlisted this year, in many ways #WOMENNOTOBJECTS must get credit for creating the petition that persuaded Cannes to stop awarding ads that objectify women and include criteria of identifying gender bias and stereotypes in the 2017 juror packets. They helped bring to light that objectification isn’t just harmful to women, it’s also bad for business. Which perhaps opened the door for the aforementioned Fearless Girl where State Street Global Advisors successfully used their brand as a platform to address gender inequality in an effort that went far beyond a mere marketing campaign and has become an iconic stake in the ground for 2017.

So, while collective guilt and media pressure may have been a catalyst at Cannes 2017, I’m perfectly fine with the outcome. And, it gives that dismal 11% stat an attractive silver lining.