Global creative community calls out representation issues across the industry at LIONS Live

Today at LIONS Live, Cannes Lions and The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University, have released the results of a major study that examines representations of gender, race/ethnicity, LGBTQ+, disability, age, and body size in Cannes Lions ads from 2006 – 2019. The Bias and Inclusion in Advertising Study shows that progress for women in ads seems to have stalled, and although the representation of characters of colour has declined overall, there has been a marked improvement in screen time in the past decade.

Overall, the study found that representation of people of colour in 2019 advertisements declined to 38.0% (from 43.1% in 2018). However, on a positive note, characters of colour are equally as likely as white characters to be featured in both speaking roles and visually prominent roles. Discussions across LIONS Live this week have suggested that although some progress has been made, there is still a long way to go. In ‘Think Before You Shoot’, We Are Pi’s CEO, Alex Bennett-Grant, stated that brands have been quick to respond to Black Lives Matter but very slow on actual system change. Surfacing data that shows 91% of those asked agreed that racial profiling in casting is a problem, he says: “It’s time to call time’s up on the ad industry’s dirty secret of racist casting calls.”

With much of the conversation at LIONS Live focusing on issues of race and representation, the overriding message is that companies and brands need to address these issues within their own business first. In INTER:Sect & Icon Mann’s session, Civil Rights Attorney, Benjamin Crump, says “Corporate CEOs and execs need to empower black people to be the gatekeepers in their corporations,” with NFL player and activist Michael Jenkins adding that, “Corporations need to learn what’s going on. Sit and listen. What does your own diversity look like? Internal things will make a big difference so put people in positions that represent the black community.”

Echoing this thinking, LIONS Live heard from Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, who said: “It’s important that we look at the composition of the people we have in our organisations and aim to get change.” Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka added that if she were to write a letter to white people and men she would say: “Dear white people and men, do not waste your privilege in society, use it for the collective good.”

Elsewhere in the Bias & Inclusion in Advertising Study it was found that LGBTQ+ characters are virtually nonexistent. Only 1.8% of characters with a discernible sexual orientation in ads are LGBTQ+ compared to 10.0% of people globally. The findings for characters with large body types were also particularly bad. Only 7.2% of characters are shown with large body types – well below the 39% of people with large body types globally, while one-in-five characters with large body types are a punchline.

The study also showed that in 2019 ads, male characters outnumber female characters two-to-one, dropping from a high of 40.2% female characters in 2014 ads. Additionally, male characters also have twice the screen time and speaking time as female characters.

Commenting on what the industry should take from the report, Madeline di Nonno, CEO, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, said: “The first thing we should learn is that representation in media goes beyond gender and race. We should strive to be inclusive in terms of people of colour, with disabilities, older adults, people with large body types, and LGBTQ+ individuals. Media is one of the only business sectors where equitable representation can be achieved overnight! Brands are creating ads all year long. The very next creative brief can be inclusive! The stalled progress to achieve cultural equity and inclusion indicates that a lot more work needs to be done to reach gender parity in advertising.”

Cannes Lions has also announced the release of the See It Be It Podcast in partnership with the world’s most popular audio streaming platform Spotify. This new podcast, launching after Lions Live, shares women’s stories from across the industry to celebrate mentoring and the power of these relationships, delving into the essence of what makes these relationships so powerful while providing inspiration and learning to female creatives globally.

Louise Benson, VP of Festivals at Cannes Lions, and host of the new podcast said: “The results of our study echo a lot of what is being said at Lions Live. To ensure that advertising accurately and positively reflects the world around us, there’s a huge internal job on representation, diversity and equality that needs to be done first. Through initiatives such as See It Be It, and the global events, mentoring programmes, and podcasts that are an extension of that programme, our goal is to accelerate female creatives into leadership roles and redress the gender balance within the industry. We must continue to take an intersectional approach to See It Be It, as well as to our other talent initiatives, because clearly the issues go way beyond gender.”

Benson added that: “In addition to our homegrown initiatives, we work with a number of equality-focused partners. These include The Female Quotient, our official LIONS Live Equality Partner, who are hosting sessions exploring the most pressing topics of today through an equality lens. We are also proud members of the Unstereotype Alliance, the UN-led initiative set up to tackle the bias and representation issues that remain prevalent in advertising the world over.”

Throughout this week, LIONS Live is offering beautifully curated content for everyone who believes in the power of creativity. The full findings of the Bias & Inclusion in Advertising Study will be discussed in a dedicated session being released on demand as part of LIONS Live next week. The full study can be downloaded from here. Anyone wishing to join LIONS Live can register here.


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