Diversity is a priority worldwide: Learnings for leaders from Cannes Lions 2023

Panelists speaking at Cannes Lions 2023

5 mins, 7 secs read time

This year, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity celebrated its 70th anniversary. Historically known as an overwhelmingly white, male-dominated event, organizations like the Cannes Can: Diversity Collective (CC:DC) and initiatives like the Black Executive CMO Alliance (BECA) worked to bring people of color into the fold and elevate their stories.

Inclusive spaces like the Female Quotient Equality Lounge and Inkwell Beach championed conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), while activations like Amazon Port, Spotify Beach and more incorporated insightful discussions on DE&I into their programming more than ever before. We’re bringing you the top takeaways from the French beach to your screen so you won’t miss a thing (other than the rosé).

Even in an uncertain economy, the most successful businesses are keeping DE&I top of mind

It’s no secret that 2023 was a rough year for many businesses. Fears about the economy had adverse impacts on workplace diversity – something that was improving steadily after 2020. After 2022, many organizations began to cut funding for inclusion programs, leading to a sharp decline in Chief Diversity Officer roles.

At Cannes Lions Festival 2023, it was refreshing to see that some of the most innovative and successful companies, from WPP to Spotify to Omnicom to LinkedIn, relentlessly pushed international diversity forward – no matter the state of the economy.

Diversity isn’t a “nice-to-have” – the companies that will last are the ones that recognize that when we bring together a variety of perspectives, we win. Greenhouse Chief People Officer Donald Knight mentioned in a panel, “Real men recognize that when we champion women in their success, it's not a failure. When women get at the helm, they outperform. Real CEOs realize it cannot happen without them.”

Leaders can’t just be allies – they have to be sponsors

Philippe Krakowsky, CEO of Interpublic Group (IPG), candidly said it best, “Talk is cheap. Cheerleading from the sidelines doesn't mean much. Unless you're putting yourself on the line and ensuring that this opportunity is available, you're not an ally.” He added, “You can't be an ally if you are constantly feeding into stereotypes that will not allow you to support and grow talent."

Executives have to invest in talent from historically underrepresented communities – and work hard and be intentional about it. Train them, meet with them, pay them fairly and promote them. It’s not about providing a leg up – it’s about leveling the playing field.

Why aren’t there more of us? Nobody wants to be alone in these spaces. I love witnessing people I think are talented succeed. I remember what it was like to think ‘If someone would just give me a chance, I would prove myself and deliver.’ So I give people that chance to kill it – and they do.
– Issa Rae, actress and Founder of Hoorae Media at Inkwell Beach, Cannes Lions 2023

"We can all talk about creating a safe space, but if people, specifically women, have a feeling they can't fail, learn, develop, and raise, then you haven't created a safe space of allyship in an organization. Most women and people of color run into a glass ceiling, whereas for most white males, it's actually a trampoline,” shared Mark D. Walker, CEO and Co-Founder of Direct Digital Holdings.

AI is here to stay – be sure to harness its power ethically

It’s no surprise that AI was the talk of the town across the Boulevard de la Croisette at Cannes Lions Festival 2023. Is it good? Is it bad? Should we use it? How do we use it? Although sentiments differed in panels, the variety of expert perspectives weaved together one common thread – it’s not going anywhere.

In a panel with Greenhouse titled: AI and DEIB: How these two acronyms work together to shape the future of hiring, Greenhouse CMO Carin Van Vuuren shared fascinating new results from a survey – “Although 62% of hiring managers believe that AI can help them hire the best candidate, candidates from historically underrepresented groups are 30% more likely to believe that AI leads to more bias in the hiring process.”

Companies can use AI to help them hire efficiently, but they should proceed with caution. It’ll be essential for employers and employees alike to educate themselves on how AI can be used and its ethical considerations, from privacy to bias.

We have to unlearn and undo so we can see real results

Progress toward true workplace diversity and inclusion can’t start without unlearning old ways and habits. And according to many experts at Cannes Lions, this starts with changing your mindset.

“Why are we saying you need a master’s degree for this role, why is it necessary to have a bachelor’s for that role?” asked Daniel Chait, CEO of Greenhouse. “If you want to hire the best people, you have to examine the current barriers your company may have in place."

Building representation within your organization is not about hitting a quota; it’s about building intentional practices that undo systemic issues.
–Rashida Jones, President of MSNBC at The Female Quotient Equality Lounge, Cannes Lions 2023

In a timely discussion about Barbie – shout out to Greta Gerwig – Mattel COO Richard Dickson admitted to mistakes the legacy company made along the way and how they finally broke from their status quo. The market data didn’t lie – “Consumers didn’t think that she was relevant. She didn’t reflect the world that kids live in,” he mentioned.

Whether altruistic or not, a lack of diversity simply isn’t good for business. Even if your business isn’t developing the average body-typed, natural-haired Black Barbies that so many of us have longed for, your workplace better reflect the communities it serves, or you’ll get left behind.

Learn how to prioritize inclusion in the face of different hiring challenges in this recent People-first podcast episode.

Listen now
Micah Gebreyes

Micah Gebreyes

is a Senior Manager of Content Marketing at Greenhouse where she develops and leads the content strategy for Greenhouse blogs, social media and thought leadership newsletter, Modern Recruiter. When she's not working to bring the brand story to life, she enjoys spending time with her Pomeranian, Cashew. Keep the conversation growing with Micah on LinkedIn or through the Greenhouse LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Ready to become great at hiring?

Request a demo today