Cannes Session: C-Suite Men: The Usual Prospects

This year, the “Cannes Can: Diversity Collective” welcomed attendees to Inkwell Beach – the festival’s first ever beach activation created to highlight and showcase themes of equality, diversity, and inclusion at the Cannes Lions Festival. A historical tribute to the infamous beach in Martha’s Vineyard (Cape Cod, USA), Inkwell Beach celebrates the contributions and perspectives of creative, media, marketing, entertainment, technology and communication fields from communities of color and under-represented communities.

VMLY&R Chief Strategy Officer, Yusuf Chuku, took the Inkwell Beach stage alongside Mike Warner, Chief Relationship Officer at Egami Group, Sean Clayton, Chief Strategy Officer at SITO Mobile, and Ray Goulbourne, EVP Broadcast Media Sales at BET Networks, to explore the atypical perception of what C-Suite executives look like in the advertising and marketing industry.

If you’ve seen the American TV show Mad Men, their discussion reflected a different reality, shedding light on the career possibilities and pathways into our industry for people of color and underrepresented communities.

 Key takeaways:

  • In the advertising industry today, there is progress in building diversity among the more junior ranks, but we aren’t nurturing them in ways that enable them to grow. The environment can be quite harsh as you’re making your way through. 
  • We need to ask ourselves: How do you create an environment that helps people grow? How do you make sure people have chances to work through their mistakes? You don’t want to give people special dispensation. But you do need to create a workplace that protects and nurtures them as they grow and mature. 
  • People of color often don’t get multiple chances to get it right. The average industry agency is often given liberty to make mistakes, while a multicultural agency has no room for error. It’s not only about the access to opportunities; it’s about access to second chances.
  • More diversity without a process to back it up is not enough. Hiring more people without mentors to guide and support them is not enough. There needs to be a holistic approach from an organizational point of view. It takes commitment from the CEO and all leadership.
  • And, the people in the middle ranks need to be brought to the fore and held accountable to create more diversified opportunities. That’s where the power lies – the middle. It won’t work if they are not part of the conversation.
  • We need to understand the difference between a mentor and an advocate. An advocate is the fundamental piece. For every decision made when you’re not in the room, you need an advocate in there either pushing for you or defending you. 

Notable quotes:

  • “As a child, I wanted a new set of crayons. They were sold in a pack of 8, 16, 32, 64 and a pack of 128. I felt that if only I could get those 128 colors, I could make the most amazing picture. Whenwe’re creating a tapestry of talent, why are we satisfied with so little when we have so many opportunities to create something great. Do you want 8 or 128?” --Sean Clayton, Chief Strategy Officer, SITO Mobile
  • “People advocate for the people they identify with the most. And it was not always easy for a senior executive to see himself in me. Until we create advocates, things won’t change.” --Yusuf Chuku, Chief Strategy Officer, VMLY&R
  • “Culture will trump strategy any day. It’s not that you won’t get licks. You’ll get them. But whether you’re black, trans, a woman, etc., you’re going to have to be resolute, resilient and adaptable. That is the greatest piece of advice I can give.” -- Ray Goulbourne, EVP Broadcast Media Sales, BET Networks
  • “The debate needs to get more nuanced. When it comes to feminism, we’re quick to talk about intersectionality, but that’s not always the case for race.” -- Yusuf Chuku, Chief Strategy Officer, VMLY&R
  • “We need to create opportunities for people to come in and learn. Not crush their spirits. We need to recruit, maintain and nurture. The nurture part of that is very important.” -- Ray Goulbourne, EVP Broadcast Media Sales, BET Networks 
  • “Give someone else a shot. Or at least give others more chances in general. Simple things like that move us towards equality.” -- Mike Warner, Chief Relationship Officer, Egami Group