Dagmar Bennett
Jul 11, 2024

My experience in Cannes underlined why men must speak up and take action against harassment

After experiencing sexual harassment at this year's Cannes Lions festival, Dagmar Bennett explains why men should be leading the fight against such behaviour.

My experience in Cannes underlined why men must speak up and take action against harassment

"Will you have sex with me when I give you the money?," a senior male asked me as we shook hands to secure a potential new-business relationship. 

Staring directly into my eyes and repeating those words, insisting he had the right to have sex with me if he gave me money. This occurred just minutes after telling me about his business and wife. I was stunned into silence, staring back at him as I continued to shake his hand. I was in utter disbelief, my body coursing with anger and an overwhelming sense of violation. Here was a man who objectified me in a work environment with total unwavering confidence. 

One of my male colleagues stood about two feet away from me, both of us in the same place, time and situation of making new industry contacts, yet having completely different experiences. This stark contrast highlights the pervasive issue of sexism in our industry.

This happened on Tuesday night at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. I was there representing Brixton Finishing School, networking with industry professionals outside a bar on the Croisette. It was packed – full of talents of all levels, including Cannes Lions winners. The chaos of networking made it easy to feel anonymous and alone.

The remainder of the festival was spent networking, attending client meetings and industry parties, but under a fresh lens of hyper-awareness. Thoughts of my attire, getting taxis home alone, and my safety dominated; daily concerns for many women. I replayed the incident in my head, questioning my reality and trying to process it: “Did that really happen? Did he really say that?”

They say the truth will set you free, but for women, often that’s not the case. Speaking out about sexual harassment and misogyny can put us in the firing line. History shows that women who speak out are often not believed, criticised, unsupported, and sometimes bullied, both in real life and online. Speaking their truth might cost them their job, financial security, and career. That’s not freedom, that's entrapment.

Despite potential repercussions and worries, I chose to call out this behaviour by posting about my experience on LinkedIn. I was able to speak up partly because I was 100% backed by my boss and employer, which, sadly, is not something everyone can rely on. The overwhelming support from both men and women across the industry highlighted that such incidents are not isolated to Cannes Lions but prevalent across our industry. 

Many of my peers also faced varying degrees of sexism and racism at the festival, highlighting broader industry issues. While these stories are not mine to tell, it’s important to acknowledge their scope. These incidents are not a reflection on Cannes Lions but on our industry itself. Cannes Lions does, however, have the potential to lead as a beacon of hope and catalyst for change.

Many of us seem insulated in bubbles. Without friends or colleagues who face discrimination, it's hard to grasp the pain endured. Discrimination occurs all around us, even amidst seemingly normal business conversations on your luxury yacht, someone in the industry nearby will likely be facing discrimination. At Cannes Lions and other industry events, I ask you to consider those in a parallel reality to the one that you are existing in.

Despite numerous talks on gender equality at the festival and the remarkable efforts of women driving equality forward (Cindy Gallop’s talk on the female gaze and sexual harassment had equal male-female attendance, which gave me hope), I noticed a lack of male presence in these spaces. Only one or two men were ever present. Evidently, women are preaching to the converted! 

Gender discussions often overlooked intersectionality and failed to include non-binary and trans communities in their discourse.

Cannes Lions is an incredible festival, brimming with innovation and inspirational people; I highly recommend experiencing it firsthand. However, amid the brilliant creativity, there's an urgent need for change in our industry.

Women shouldn't have to change their behaviours; men must change theirs. Senior male allies must empower more males to lead on gender equality initiatives in the workplace and transform our professional environments into spaces where everyone feels respected and safe.

It's vital to highlight how these incidents impact women and emphasise the urgent need for men to take action. 

As the person this incident happened to, I find it frustrating to bear the burden of harassment and the responsibility for driving change. 

I call upon males to lead this change and take responsibility. 

Cannes Lions must take further proactive steps by creating platforms and safe spaces, where men can talk openly, learn, take accountability and have clear actions on how to actively change attitudes and workplace culture.

Male allies, please speak up and take action!


Dagmar Bennett FRSA is a freelance TV documentary director and partnerships director at Brixton Finishing School  

For anyone who has been affected by these issues, industry organisation TimeTo offers support and guidance. Ahead of this year's Cannes Lions event it produced guidelines, in collaboration with the festival, on how to prevent and deal with sexual harrassment before, during and after the event.

In a statement, Frank Starling, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Cannes Lions, said: "We would like to thank Dagmar for speaking up about her experience and commend her for coming forward. We will continue to expand our efforts and work with industry partners and organisations, like TimeTo – and partner with the global community to stamp out sexual harassment.

"We welcome all communities to Cannes Lions, and we will continue to take ongoing and proactive steps to create a representative, inclusive and safe platform for all our attendees."

Source:
Campaign UK

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