Moving Diversity From Conversation to Action

“Clients need a diverse perspective, because they write the briefs. Agencies need diverse perspectives, because they come up with the ideas. And production houses need diverse perspectives, because they bring those ideas to life.” So says Antonio Lucio, CMO of HP, and he’s not wrong. In an impassioned and inspirational Cannes Lions session, movie star Thandie Newton, British Vogue editor Edward Enninful and Omnicom/ADCOLOR’s Tiffany R. Warren sat down with Lucio to share their personal stories and make a call for action, not talk.

Edward Enninful made history when he became the first black Editor in Chief of British Vogue a year ago, and then made history again this year with a magazine cover which featured nine diverse models. “That’s just how I see the world,” says Enninful, who grew up surrounded by women of different sizes and ethnicities. “That is the world,” adds Newton.

“Comfort doesn’t teach you. Discomfort is what opens you up and what makes you grow.” -Thandie Newton

Tiffany R. Warren created her first diverse ad when she was ten years old. She was working on a school assignment on the subject of what she wanted to be when she grew up; she loved the ballet, but when she went to the Boston Ballet she didn’t see anyone on stage who looked like her. This had such an impact that her art project took the form of a hiring ad calling for black ballerinas. Now she is the founder of ADCOLOR, and while she is optimistic about the future, Warren doesn’t expect to be out of a job any time soon when it comes to the fight for diversity and inclusion. “It’s often the marginalized who are asked to make a business case for diversity,” she says. “But is there a business case for sameness? I don’t think any company in the world will tell you how sameness has made them successful.”

“There’s a fear that this could turn into a bandwagon,” says Enninful, of the diversity and inclusion conversation. He implores the people in the audience who work in advertising and media not to think of this as a trend, but as something which needs to be nurtured and built into everything that they do. “We have to have a range of voices, not just one.”

Newton is keen to point out that the entertainment industry in which she works (and which acts as a mirror to wider culture) is changing, slowly but surely. “At the start of my career it was just me, Halle Berry, and Naomi Campbell,” she says. “Now it’s different, and that’s because there’s demand. The customer is always right!” She also mentions that as a result of the Time’s Up movement, HBO has now implemented gender-equal pay to all of their productions. “To a degree, companies like HBO are pressured into it,” she says, “but we need that pressure. It’s not a wicked thing to do, it’s just another word for encouragement, to help that company grow.”

Newton places that same pressure on herself in her working life. “I’m a lead actress (on “Westworld”), and so if I walk on-set and don’t see equal representation in that world I live in, I will make a change, I’ll use my authority to do that. We all need to use our authority to make change, because the results are astounding.” She cites a hugely encouraging recent example from the set of Solo (already a landmark film in that it is the first “Star Wars” story to prominently feature an actress of color), where diverse Lucasfilm mentees delivered extraordinary work. “They weren’t complacent, they were determined to prove themselves because they didn’t have those family connections in the film industry to rely on. And it’s so easy for a company like Lucasfilm to do that!”

And if major film studios can embrace this change, then so too can advertising agencies — and just as importantly, their clients. “Diversity and inclusion need to move out of the HR office and become rooted and anchored in the business like any other priority, with objectives, metrics, and targets,” says Lucio. “If we’re not able to do that then we’re not taking it seriously, we’re just having conversations about it.”

Newton agrees that talk is insufficient, and says that while these conversations are important, she is tired of preaching to the converted, and believes that it’s more important to get uncomfortable and talk to the people who maybe don’t necessarily want to see that change.

“Comfort doesn’t teach you. Discomfort is what opens you up and what makes you grow,” she says. “We live in the world, but the world also lives in us as individuals, and we can either be open to that and rise to that challenge, or we can live small.”

Philip Ellis is a British blogger with a background in digital marketing. He specialises in pop culture, social media and technology. He regularly contributes to and Huffington Post.