Glass ceiling yet to be smashed at Cannes Lions

This year's meeting of the great and good from the creative, business, and media communities in the South of France featured the debut of the Glass Lions, but the winners' stage was still dominated by men.

The endless troupe of male creatives swaggering onstage to pick up awards proved there is still a long way to go before Cannes itself qualifies for one of the new Glass Lions.

Inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s organization, the Glass Lions recognize work that addresses issues of gender inequality or prejudice through the representation of gender in advertising – though I’m not sure if the definition is really supposed to confine the scope of the awards to the latter.

Cannes organizers say entries should in some way represent a shift toward more positive, progressive, and gender-aware communication. The first Grand Prix in the Glass Lions went to BBDO India Mumbai for its Touch the Pickle campaign for Procter & Gamble’s Whisper Sanitary Napkins brand.

Another P&G feminine hygiene brand, Always, won a Glass Lion for its #LikeAGirl work, this time under the banner of advertising agency Leo Burnett Canada, rather than MSLGroup, which took credit for the PR Lions Grand Prix win.

Other notable Glass Lion winners included Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, produced by FCB Inferno in London, which also won a Grand Prix for Good at the Health Lions that preceded the main festival, and yet another one for P&G: Share The Load for the CPG giant’s Ariel Matic brand, also produced by BBDO India’s Mumbai office.

Unlike pretty much everything else going on in Cannes this week, the organizers are not making money on this one. Cannes teamed up with new cause marketing outfit In/Pact to give all festival delegates the chance to decide which causes the money goes to from a list of 10 preselected causes for gender equality.

In/Pact is helmed by former FleishmanHillard global MD of strategic integration John McNeel and boasts former Procter & Gamble CMO Jim Stengel as chair of its international advisory board. Former Miss Universe Gabriela Isler is the social good organization’s brand ambassador and was in Cannes this week in that capacity.

Every day of the festival, delegates could also claim €10 for the total fund and pick a cause to give it to. The money will be put back into a soon-to-be announced program that promotes and enables the creation of a more gender-neutral media landscape. All entry fees for the Glass Lions will also be donated to the program.

The Glass Lions was chaired by the passionate and feisty Cindy Gallop and she produced some of the loudest cheers of the week with her exhortations to the industry to work much harder to foster gender equality and diversity in marketing communications. Gail Heimann, president of Weber Shandwick, was also a judge.

This is all very worthy and, of course, to be applauded. It’s great that Cannes is putting the spotlight on the alarming lack of diversity in marketing communications and celebrating gender-aware communications. And it is also great that it is encouraging delegates and corporations to give back and prioritize social good.

But it masks the fact that, even for the Glass Lions, most of the creatives coming on stage to receive the awards were male, apart from the notable exception of the Always #LikeAGirl campaign team.

So, the inaugural awarding of Glass Lions tended to doubly highlight the lack of diversity in creative departments it was trying to address, rather than its desired effect of celebrating gender equality.

But it’s a fact that all new awards initiatives face growing pains at the start of their lives. Cannes Health is on a journey itself.

Glass Lions is a start, but there’s still a long way to go before the glass ceiling of creativity is smashed. PR is leading the way on this issue, but advertising, media, and digital still feel like very male environments.

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