Alison Weissbrot
May 27, 2021

Cannes Lions responds to DE&I controversy

The organisation formally apologised to former dean Abraham Abbi Asefaw and committed to further improvements.


The Cannes International Festival of Creativity on Wednesday (May 26) issued a formal public apology to Abraham Abbi Asefaw, a former Dean of its Roger Hatchuel Academy learning program who called the organisation out for a lack of diversity. 

Last week, Asefaw tweeted about how the organisation removed him as the only person of colour serving as a dean for the program and replaced him with a white person after months of emphasising the importance of having BIPOC leadership on the program. 

Cannes Lions referred to the decision as a “quick fix,” further exacerbating the issue. 

Asefaw’s tweet thread sparked backlash across the industry, with more than 87% of respondents to a Campaign US Twitter poll agreeing that Cannes Lions has a diversity problem reflective of the industry at large. 

After meeting with Asefaw privately last week to discuss the faux pas, Cannes Lions issued a formal apology on its website specifically to Asefaw as well as “the many other individuals in the community that we may have hurt.”

The organisation said the Roger Hatchuel learning academy will be run by two program alums from Kenya and Ecuador alongside a course facilitator, and the program “has been designed in conjunction with a network of academy graduates from a wide range of backgrounds.” It did not share specific names. 

The statement went on: “In 2022, we will ensure that our pool of educators, across all our programs, is appropriately diverse by implementing best hiring practices to ensure we have a diverse slate of candidates to choose from.”

Cannes then went on to “acknowledge we need help to understand what happened in Abraham’s case, examine our practices in all areas of the business and make changes where they are needed.” The organisation will engage a specialist DE&I consultancy to conduct an independent report on all of its programs and practices, and work with them along with the Cannes DE&I leadership committee to implement their recommendations. 

“We will report on each stage of the process and we will share with our community the policies on DE&I that are defined as part of the process,” the statement reads. “We hope and believe that with the help of clear, expert outside eyes we will make the step-change that is clearly necessary.”

The statement concludes with Cannes Lions recognising and taking “its responsibility as a leader of the industry very seriously.” 

“We know we have a unique platform to drive positive change,” the statement continued. “We feel fortunate to have worked with many in the industry on initiatives that are contributing to this change. 

“But the events of this week showed us that we are only as strong as our weakest link. If our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion doesn’t extend to every part of what we do, then it doesn’t extend to any part of what we do.”

Campaign US

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