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Cannes Lions
“Unless there is true inclusivity at all levels with all people it is actually not possible to change a culture.”
IT'S UP TO YOU

Bozoma Saint John is not your savior

By Lauren Alix Brown

Cannes, France

“The lack of a plan is probably the biggest blessing in my life… I’m really following my spirit.”

At the Cannes Lions advertising conference, Bozoma Saint John has spoken candidly about her career path. Saint John, who unexpectedly announced last week that she was leaving Uber as chief brand officer to become the marketing chief of talent agency Endeavor, noted that her past four jobs (Beats and Apple) were all new roles created for her.

Yesterday, in a conversation with Carolyn Everson of Facebook at the Girls’ Lounge event space, Saint John said that when she joined Uber, she “recoiled” at the New York Times headline asking, “Is This the Woman Who Will Save Uber?” What’s more, the story appeared in the style section and said little of her bona fides working at Apple Music, PepsiCo, and receiving numerous awards, including the induction into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Achievement in 2014. 

Saint John declared that a culture cannot be healthy if it is not inclusive, and she said it’s everyone’s task, particularly “white men, white women.” 

“Unless there is true inclusivity at all levels with all people it is actually not possible to change a culture,” she said, adding:

I make this joke all of the time. I’m like, when something happens, when some issue on issue on race happens, everyone’s like, “Oh, I’m not racist, I have a black friend.” But I’m like, where in the hell are your black friends? Recruit your black friends. Seriously, it’s up to you. Tell your black friend to come into the company wherever the hell y’all at. So, it’s not up to me to recruit, y’all have black friends. Y’all do it.

A similar issue came up in another panel at the conference today. Saint John said that when she walked into Uber, people asked, “How are you going to fix our diversity issue?” She wasn’t the chief diversity officer, she stressed, “I just happen to be a black woman, by God’s grace.”