Cannes Lions is an annual celebration of creativity for marketing mavens. Every year brands, agencies and celebrities compete not only for awards and recognition at the French Riviera-based fest, but to make a change as well. Fun and games aside, the week-long event is also a goldmine for meaningful conversations. This year’s hot-button topic particularly reverberated around diversity.

A digital billboard created by Mother London read, “Stop talking about equality and make it happen.” The billboard was prominently on display above the Grand Hotel and remained there for the entire span of the Cannes Lions festival.

‘The Fearless Girl’

In honor of International Women’s Day, State Street Global Advisors created the now iconic “The Fearless Girl” statue—dropping her in front of the famous “Charging Bull” statue into Bowling Green Park in lower Manhattan. The overnight sensation was installed under the cover of darkness and became an instant conversation piece worldwide, but not without its controversy. “The Fearless Girl” took home three Grand Prix awards on the first day at Cannes, followed by a glass lion, and more.

“The placement of ‘The Fearless Girl’ in the epicenter of the world’s financial capital helps not only promote our commitment to women in leadership today and tomorrow, but it also establishes an interesting emotional and rational aspect to responsible investing,” State Street Global Advisors’ chief marketing officer Stephen Tisdalle told AdFreak.

Diversity Demands Action

According to a survey of 500 members of the Fast Company community, 71 percent of respondents believe their organizations respect diversity of thought, but an overwhelming 85 percent said more needs to be done.

Separate research found that men appear in ads four times more than women and have seven times more speaking roles, according to J. Walter Thompson and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

Marketing executives, public figures and people in entertainment were at Cannes Lions trying to make a change.

Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever, after launching Unstereotype Alliance to eradicate outdated stereotypes in advertising: “We’ve seen true progress in our industry, but it doesn’t go far enough. Our job isn’t done until we never see an ad that diminishes or limits the role of women and men in society. We want to work with our peers across the industry to develop new ways of working, to share knowledge and approaches, so that we can scale the Unstereotype commitments. We believe cross-sector collaboration will lead to sustained transformation. This is no longer just a social imperative but a business one, progressive ads have been found to be 25 percent more effective and deliver better branded impact.”

Kathleen Hall, corporate vice president of brand, advertising and research at Microsoft: “Advertising is a reflection of culture and sometimes can be ahead of the curve and help effect change.”

Philip Thomas, CEO of Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity: “ . . . The conversations around diversity and representation have moved toward practical and effective solutions to encourage equality in creativity.”

HP’s chief marketing offcier Antonio Lucio says the ad world needs to walk the talk when it comes to diversity, per AdWeek. “If I could point at one thing that is getting in the way of real progress in our industry, it’s the lack of diversity. We’re spending way too much time talking about it, not enough time doing what needs to be done. If you believe in innovation, if you believe in improvement, diversity becomes a business imperative much more than a values issue. . . . We believe our ability to deliver more innovation and better innovation from a product standpoint and our ability to connect with our customers around the world will improve by having teams that are diverse in their composition.”

Airbnb chief marketing officer Jonathan Mildenhall took to Twitter to raise the issue of ethnic diversity at Cannes Lions, per Campaign. “I feel this insane responsibility to use my profile to make sure that when I look around, I can see the next generation of CMOs that might look like me. The next generation of CMOs that might identify with my same sexuality. The next generation of female CMOs that might have brown skin.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson called out the tech world and Hollywood to be more diverse, per The Hollywood Reporter: “For too long, Hollywood has stereotyped people in ways that have either damaged the culture or been indifferent to change. . . . We must brand our values. Branders must heed that call, I think maybe more than politicians. They are willing to explore the other side. . . . There is a struggle for the soul of America.”

Frank Cooper, global chief marketing officer of Blackrock, citing Uber’s crisis as a lesson for the industry, per The Wall Street Journal: “You have to model behavior from the very top, especially for a startup company still significantly developing. . . . People are inherently uncomfortable with people who are not like them—with people who don’t look like them or act like them.”

Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), while addressing the crowd at Cannes Lions, per The Hollywood Reporter: “I am not a fad . . . “I’m [an] anomaly. I’m not supposed to be here and be part of the Hollywood conversation because of my body, because of my skin, because of my age, but I’m still here because I am also the audience. [Entertainment is] moving in an amazing way. I think if this were 2007 instead of 2017 I probably wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be worth listening to.”

Actor Sir Ian McKellen (The Hobbit, Vicious) teamed up with Vicious producer Gary Reich to create a series of short films by and for the LGBTQ community, with Facebook as a broadcast partner, per The Hollywood Reporter: “I’ve been impressed with gay rights all over the world [and] how much commerce wants to be involved. Hollywood, to crudely sum it up, has tended to deal with fantasy, tended to deal with escape. Branding has to be up to date otherwise. [Brands] come up with a response to the world as it really is. It’s a much different approach to anything that Hollywood would do.”

Ida Rezvani, senior partner at WPP,during a diversity pane, per The Guardian: “When it comes to broader diversity, we’ve got a long way to go.”