CANNES – Global agency MEC has a bias against bias. Toward the top of the list is “unconscious bias” and it’s become an acute problem in a day and age when agencies are facing more competitors than ever.

“We’ve done an awful lot of work on unconscious bias. It’s a huge thing in our industry,” says Marie-Claire Barker, MEC’s Global Chief Talent Officer, who notes that agencies’ competitive set is “almost unrecognizable from five years ago.”

This led MEC during last year’s Advertising Week New York to launch an initiative titled Brave Your Bias. It’s based in part on research the company cites showing, among other things, that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have greater financial returns than the industry average.

While there are various varieties of unconscious bias, one that’s most prevalent in the ad industry is association bias, Barker explains in this interview with Beet.TV at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

“You associate and affiliate yourself with people who are like you,” says Barker. “They might have worked at the same place, they might gone to the same school, they could even have grown up in the same area as you.”

This creates a comfortable sense of community that keeps outsiders out. “What we’re trying to challenge people to do is step outside that comfort zone and start to work with people who are different.”

Barker evokes comments at Cannes by renowned photographer Mario Testino, who told an audience that he feared early on that his Peruvian heritage would put him at a disadvantage. “And that example shows that if people did have a bias against him because of that, look at the beautiful work we would have missed out on,” Barker says.

In the same vein, actor Sir Ian McKellen spoke to Cannes attendees about coming out as a gay man, while actress Helen Mirren reflected on how fantastic it is at her age to be associated with the beauty brand L’Oreal.

“I just feel that the conversation about the value that people bring and not just how they look and who they know is really coming to the surface now,” says Barker.

Given how tech-centric advertising and media agencies have needed to become, attracting talent means not only embracing all types of people but particularly those who are interested in advances like artificial intelligence, according to Barker.

“Our industry isn’t full of those people. We need to go outside of our industry and try to attract different people.”

This video is part of Beet.TV’s Coverage of Cannes Lions 2017. For more from the series, please visit this page.