BITE Focus

"Marketers are demanding change" How Cannes Lions is pushing for equality

Louise Benson, VP Festivals Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, lifts the lid on this year’s #SeeItBeIt programme and how the festival has elevated equality.

Nicola Kemp

Managing Editor, BITE


If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. In the growing discussion around equality and representation in the creative industries, the #SeeItBeIt mantra has become part of the vernacular of inclusion. This focus on taking an active role in striving for equal representation is a shift which Louise Benson, Executive Festival Director at Cannes Lions, must take some of the credit for.

The #SeeItBeIt programme is now in its sixth year and 72 women have gone through the programme with over 700 women applying to take part this year. A drop in the ocean, perhaps, in the global context of the creative industries, but one that is creating positive ripples around the world.

The programme was launched in 2014 by the festival’s then Director of Brand Strategy Senta Slingerland. At the time, Slingerland expressed a clear and forward-looking strategy for the programme, which was to “make every agency in the world think about the women they have in their organisations and what they need to grow them.”

“When Senta launched this program, it was very prescient. Brand marketers have a bigger voice in the festival, and they are the ones demanding change in the make-up of their teams. This is a creative movement.”

Five years later and the #SeeItBeIt programme has a renewed sense of urgency as data suggests that agencies are not yet moving the dial on female leadership. Particularly in the UK market, where data from Creative Equals which shows that 12% of women in the creative industries are looking to leave the industry within the next two years.

Speaker stats: Gender diversity at Cannes Lions

35% women
40% women
44% women

Changing the ratio

This year over 700 female creatives from across the globe applied for a coveted place on the programme. Swati Bhattacharya, Chief Creative Officer at FCBUlka is the programme’s ambassador this year.

“See It Be It is an elite programme, but I feel very strongly that equality should be about supporting everyone, not just the exceptional,” explains Benson. This is the why the ripple effect of the events, many of them free to go to across the globe, is so impressive. On their own steam, fuelled not just by creative ambition but a desire to actively improve the industry they work within, many women who have completed the programme have created a halo effect of their own. These grassroots #SeeItBeIt events have been held in Bulgaria, Pakistan and New York.

It is clear Benson believes the festival can take an active role in the move towards greater equality in the industry. While awards have always been central to building a successful creative career, data from Creative Equals shows that women’s work is 10% less likely to be entered for awards.

While Cannes Lions does not ask for gender statistics on its awards entries, Benson notes that “awards by their very nature can reinforce the power structures which exist.”

20% female jury members
31.5% female jury members
43.5% female jury members
48% female jury members

Tracking progress

Yet where it can, the festival is challenging and changing those power structures, with greater diversity both on juries and its content platforms. “Our concerted effort to ensure equal gender splits on juries and within our content platforms sends a clear message back to agencies that women should be valued,” explains Benson.

To this end, in 2019 almost half (48%) of jurors are women, a significant leap from the 20% recorded in 2013.

But changing the ratio has not been about lowering the bar when it comes to ensuring greater diversity on juries. “It is the same selection process, but change has been brought about by sheer hard work and determination. It has been a journey,” she adds. 

Just as winning a Cannes Lions can boost your career, experience on juries can have a positive impact on both career progression and profile. “We plant those seeds. There is a halo effect [on your career] in being on a jury. If we can intervene in a way that is fair, that is a positive thing,” Benson says.

From talk to action

Five years into the #SeeItBeIt programme, Benson reflects that its continued relevance and impact is down to the approach: “It was not a PR exercise; it wasn’t done with great fanfare. It was real work to try and diversify the industry. It has become a cult brand and it is easier for us to open doors with it. In recent years we have always had an ambassador and these women have become really involved in the long term. The women who have led these groups have become so committed. It has changed their lives.”

Sponsorship has also grown the programme further. This year Spotify has powered the initiative forward by investing in sponsoring more global events. “Through the women who have been through the programmes it is clear that it is not nice to have. This is about supporting female creatives; it is essential,” adds Benson

Of course, there remains more to do to drive equality across the industry, but Benson points to initiatives such as the UN Women Unstereotype Alliance as evidence of the power of a collaborative, cross-industry drive for greater representation. “I wouldn’t say the battle is won but there are brilliant examples of brand marketers wanting to create change both in front of and behind the camera because it makes business sense. These high-profile examples are influencing the industry as a whole,” she adds.

In the midst of the ultimate celebration of creativity, the drive to push inclusive creative movement for change continues. For Benson, progress is not simply measured by seeing the creative women who successfully undertook the #SeeItBeIt programme picking up awards and accolades of their own. Instead she points to the ever-growing number of grassroot events across the globe which are opening the door to a new generation of creative female talent. Five years in and the desire from women across the programme and the industry as a whole not just to climb the ladder, but ensure young women starting out today are supported and heard, is palpable.

No Cannes Do?

Can’t cover everything at Cannes so here are BITE’s key picks.

Cannes Lions-owner Ascential has simplified the festival with a shorter five-day event kicking off next Monday 18th June. Yet navigating a packed schedule is never easy. With this in mind we have picked out some key events, talks and tips.

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Go and see the work

Cannes Lions’ Louise Benson’s top tips for the festival. She recommends CLX, a new immersive and curated content track analysing the future of creativity: “Go and spend some proper time in the basement looking at the work. The work should be a priority for everyone.” Then of course, spending time with the #SeeItBeIt group.

Cannes Lions:
See the work

10th Anniversary of the VOWs

To mark its tenth anniversary, the Voice of a Woman (VOW) is launching the Made By Her Award for commercial creative content. The non-profit organisation was established in 2009 to champion women filmmakers, artists and thought leaders and bring their work to greater public and industry attention. The Made By Her award will be awarded for the best commercials, branded content, music videos, animation and art/experimental short films. VOW are hosting a screening on Thursday 20th June at 11am, in the Redac Theatre 1, Festival d’Palais, the first in a series of cinematic screenings in London, New York and Los Angeles to provide industry professionals, an opportunity to view and cast their votes on the best work for the new Made By Her Audience Award. The inaugural award winner, chosen by industry professionals internationally, will be announced in October in London and November in Los Angeles.

Cannes Lions:
VOW Made By Her
VOW Made By Her.jpg
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Future Gazers on the Terrace

BITE’s Nicola Kemp will be chairing a Future Gazers on the Terrace discussion in partnership with Twitter. New for 2019, the session will explore the world 18 months from now, with each of the three speakers proposing their Future of for five minutes each. Lucie Green, Worldwide Director of the Innovation Group at Wunderman Thompson will explore the Future of Wellness; Armando Ortiz, Extended Reality and Mobile Practice Leader in North America for IBM iX will examine the Future of AR/VR Fuelled by 5G; and Chris Duffey, Head of AI Innovation and Strategy for Adobe will speak about the Future of Cognitive Creativity. This future gazing discussion will look at the way the world will be and how you can future proof your creativity accordingly.

Cannes Lions:
Future Gazers on the Terrace

There will be Blood: Brand Activism Gets Scarily Messy

It was the campaign that finally turned period blood red and the one that got us talking about vulvas in casual conversation. Bodyform/Libresse and AMV BBDO bring their partnership to life on stage exploring how much more effective smashing taboos becomes when you do it at scale. They will dismantle the long-held belief that meaningful change in the future can only be brought about by start-ups. Instead they will pose that a company’s scale and size can offer tools for change as well as allowing the space for empathy and resilience. The partnership’s ‘Viva La Vulva’ campaign has been shortlisted for the 2019 Glass: The Lion for Change and the Titanium Lions, a category that was first suggested by Dan Wieden in 2003. As David Lubars, Chief Creative Officer of BBDO, outlined, these Lions are for work that is “so forward thinking that it does not fit into a conventional category…work that showed the industry a new direction.”

Cannes Lions:
There will be Blood
Viva la Vulva.jpg

Related Tags

Inclusion Cannes Creativity