Kevin Roberts, the executive chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, has been placed on leave following comments he made on gender diversity in the advertising industry.
Speaking to Business Insider, Roberts said that, in his view, the debate over gender diversity is over and he doesn’t spend “any time” on the issue at his company.
He also took aim at advertising consultant Cindy Gallop who campaigns for women’s rights in the media and advertising industries.
“I think she’s got problems that are of her own making,” he said. “I think she’s making up a lot of the stuff to create a profile, and to take applause, and to get on a soap[box].”
Following his comments, Publicis Groupe, Saatchi & Saatchi’s holding company, has asked Roberts to take leave.
Publicis said in a statement: “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. As a member of The Directoire, it will ultimately be the Publicis Groupe Supervisory Board’s duty to further evaluate his standing.”
As well as his role in Saatchi & Saatchi, Roberts also acts as a head coach for Publicis. His job is to travel the world and advise brands, sports teams, and politicians on how to be better leaders.
In an internal note sent to staff, Publicis Worldwide CEO, Arthur Sadoun, took a harder stance: “The way Kevin’s remarks were expressed I find offensive in terms of language and tonality. Behaviour like this is simply unacceptable in our Groupe,” he said.
“I am sorry that the comments made by Kevin have reflected poorly upon the Groupe and our culture. His views couldn’t be further from the truth about our commitment and feelings about gender diversity.”
A survey conducted in 2014 by The 3% Conference found women make up just 11.5% of creative directors within ad agencies.
By comparison, Saatchi & Saatchi has an impressive track record. 65% of its staff is female and a large number occupy positions on the company’s board and other executive roles.
Roberts said he can’t talk about sexual discrimination because his company has “never had that problem” and that he doesn’t see the lack of women in leadership roles in other organisations as a problem.
A number of high-profile lawsuits centered around gender discrimination have made the news recently. Most notably, J. Walter Thompson’s CEO, Gustavo Martinez, was accused of “constant sexual slurs” and making jokes about rape. He denied the allegations.
Saatchi & Saatchi’s worldwide CEO, Robert Senior, appeared to disagree, saying in a statement: “We live and die by our people, our talent, and it makes no difference to us whether that talent is male or female.
“The issue of gender diversity is not in any way over for our industry. It is live, emotive and vital for the communications business that we continue to insist that the best people, whatever their gender, are able to achieve their potential.”
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