THE BLOG

There Are Women Issues in Cannes

21/06/2014 09:43 BST | Updated 20/08/2014 10:59 BST

Say 'Cannes' to the average guy or girl on the street, and they automatically think film festival. However, for the last six days, it has been the media industry clogging up La Croisette - the famous boutique-lined, beach-front boulevard - for the annual Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

A melting pot of advertising creatives, PR gurus and media moguls this week flew into Cannes to drink their body weight in rosé, shake hands on deals and, if they were really lucky, party with Kim Kardashian.

Away from the starry parties, however, the advertising industry is facing many of the same challenges other industries do, starting with the lack of women role models.

At present only 3% of creative directors worldwide are female. And this in an industry designed almost exclusively to promote purchasing decisions, of which 80% are made by women.

Clearly something doesn't add up.

Kim Kardashian may drive headlines about Cannes, but the man generating most talk in Cannes is usually Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO and founder of the world's largest advertising company, WPP.

When I spoke to him, he acknowledged the issues facing the fairer sex.

"Women are not as prominent as they should be. But does that mean that there aren't a lot of brilliant women doing great jobs? No.

"Do I think they should lean in, as Sheryl says? Yes."

For WPP, that issue has manifested itself in a course called The X Factor, run by Charlotte Beers, herself author of the book I'd Rather Be In Charge.

Sorrell boasts of more than 200 female execs having been through X Factor training, all of them emerging with a "new vision" and "a lot of high expectations".

What he doesn't agree with is that women need to make a decision about work over family, or visa versa.

"I see Charlotte and I see Shelly Lazarus [chairman emeritus of the agency Ogilvy & Mather] as models who managed to balance family and business.

"[There are] three areas: Family, career and society. Those are the three circles you have to link. The Venn diagram."

One thing he is sure about is that the talent exists.

"It's just frankly they don't get the opportunities," he notes.

Quizzed over whether quotas are the answer, he won't rule it out.

"If all else fails, you would do that.

"Which is sort of where we are getting towards."

Speaking on the same day, on the main stage in Cannes, Sheryl Sandberg echoed Sorrell's comments, calling the lack of diversity in firms "depressing".

"We live in a world that is still overwhelmingly run by men," she told a packed auditorium. "We have a leadership problem."

Even Jared Leto leant his weight to the cause, claiming during his Cannes keynote, "It would be nice if I did have the right to speak on behalf of women.

"As some of you may know if you saw the Oscars, I was raised by a wonderful single mom. So I'm all for women being in positions where they can actually participate and have real authority to change the world that we live in."

Away from all the words - of which there are many in Cannes - there is some action, starting with the Cannes Lion 'See It, Be It' programme, which celebrates young female talent in the industry, and encourages them to push forward for senior creative positions.

That kind of thing can't come soon enough, with female delegates making up just 15% of the under 28s in Cannes this year and a frankly shocking 4% of those aged 28 and over.

There's no word if Kim counted towards that percentage. Certainly her delegate pass wasn't seen swinging anywhere near that Balmain nautical dress.