Saatchi's chairman suspended after claiming gender debate is ‘over’

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 31 July 2016
Kevin Roberts

Saatchi & Saatchi has suspended its global chairman following his comments claiming that there isn’t a problem with gender diversity in the industry. 

Kevin Roberts, chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi gave a frank interview with Business Insider which was published on Friday, in which he said he believes the gender bias debate is “fucking over” and that he doesn’t spend any time thinking about it. 

He also asserted than many women don’t reach senior levels within the industry because they lack the “ambition” to do so. However, his comments were in a wider discussion about the changing perspectives of men and women on what constitutes success, and the idea that reaching senior management is an “antiquated” notion of success for some people.

“Their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy … I don’t think [the lack of women in leadership roles] is a problem. I’m just not worried about it because they are very happy, they’re very successful, and doing great work. I can’t talk about sexual discrimination because we’ve never had that problem, thank goodness,” he told Business Insider.

Publicis CEO Maurice Levy, who runs the global network of which Saatchis is a part distanced himself and the group from Roberts’ comments yesterday saying: “It is for the gravity of these statements that Kevin Roberts has been asked to take a leave of absence from Publicis Groupe effective immediately. It will ultimately be the Publicis Groupe Supervisory Board’s duty to further evaluate his standing.”

In the full statement later published by Business Insider, Publicis said it has a “no-tolerance policy towards behaviour or commentary counter to the spirit of Publicis Groupe and its celebration of difference as captured in the motto Viva la Difference!”

“Diversity and inclusion are business imperatives on which Publicis Groupe will not negotiate. While fostering a work environment that is inclusive of all talent is a collective responsibility, it is leadership’s job to nurture the career aspirations and goals of all our talent.

Promoting gender equality starts at the top and the Groupe will not tolerate anyone speaking for our organisation who does not value the importance of inclusion. Publicis Groupe works very hard to champion diversity and will continue to insist that each agency’s leadership be champions of both diversity and inclusion.”

Roberts also took aim at Cindy Gallop, outspoken and high profile campaigner, saying that she is “making up a lot of the stuff to create a profile, and to take applause, and to get on a soap[box].”

Gallop fired back vocally on social media and a number of high profile global MCOs have followed suit. PepsiCo CMO Brad Jakeman said he was proud not to be a client of Saatchis. Meanwhile Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall, who is also outspoken about the lack of diversity beyond gender, tweeted that Saatchis client P&G should be questioning its agency’s ethics. A swell of other indsurty people have come out swingeing against Roberts.

His comments have enraged many and opened up the gender diversity row once more. His words also fly in the face of the efforts of many agency leaders to address what is still a major problem in the advertising industry as it is in many other areas of business. Most agencies are actively taking steps to put in place initiatives which will help alleviate gender bias and make it easier for more women to reach senior roles where there remains an imbalance. 

Globally JWT has introduced blind recruitment following its own furore earlier this year and the filing of a law suit alleging sexist and racist conduct from its former CEO Gustavo Martinez.

Closer to home Last month Australian independent agency The Works introduced a scheme that will see the agency cover childcare costs for six months for parents wanting to return to work. Clemenger BBDO Sydney is just one agency that has set up a diversity council to address the issue internally.

AdNews has reached out to Saatchi & Saatchi Australia CEO Michael Rebelo to talk about the local perspective. He was unavailable at the time this article was published.

AdNews has covered the issue of gender in the industry from a number of perspectives. Here's  a few articles you should read:

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