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Global agency boss suspended after claiming women prefer not to be in management

The global boss of creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi Kevin Roberts has been placed on administrative leave pending a decision by the board of holding company Publicis Groupe about his future with the organisation.

The move follows an incendiary interview by the adman in which he appeared to claim that there was no problem with gender diversity in advertising industry management because women are happier in non-executive roles.

Photographer Juan Carrera | Source: saatchikevin.com

Photographer Juan Carrera | Source: saatchikevin.com

Roberts is global chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi and head coach of parent company Publicis Groupe.

His role as head coach for Publicis includes leading the career development of the company’s 80,000 staff around the world. Publicis agencies include Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett, Razorfish, Starcom and Zenith.

Publicis’s creative agency Leo Burnett Sydney came under attack from diversity campaigner Cindy Gallop late last year after publicising a new hire with a new infamous image of seven white men.

Gallop's tweet kicked off a huge debate

Gallop’s tweet kicked off a huge debate

On Saturday Business Insider published an interview with Roberts in which he responded to a question about gender diversity in the industry by claiming “the fucking debate is all over”. He also attacked Gallop – who recently spoke at Mumbrella360 – as “making up a lot of stuff to create a profile”.

The key quotes from the Business Insider Interview:

“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.”

“Edward de Bono once told me there is no point in being brilliant at the wrong thing — the fucking debate is all over. This is a diverse world, we are in a world where we need, like we’ve never needed before, integration, collaboration, connectivity, and creativity … this will be reflected in the way the Groupe is.”

On Cindy Gallop: “I think she’s got problems that are of her own making. 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].”

“We have a bunch of talented, creative females, but they reach a certain point in their careers … 10 years of experience, when we are ready to make them a creative director of a big piece of business, and I think we fail in two out of three of those choices because the executive involved said: ‘I don’t want to manage a piece of business and people, I want to keep doing the work’,”

Business Insider also quoted Roberts – author of books including Lovemarks and new publication 64 Shots: Leadership In A Crazy World that he doesn’t spend “any time” on gender issues at his agencies at all.

Within hours after the interview’s publication, the boss of Publicis, Maurice Levy, distanced himself from Roberts’ comments saying they went against the company’s position on diversity, saying: “Promoting gender equality starts at the top and the Groupe will not tolerate anyone speaking for our organization who does not value the importance of inclusion.”

Publicis statement on Kevin Roberts

The full statement from Publicis:

Following the comments made by Saatchi & Saatchi Executive Chairman and Publicis Groupe Head Coach, Kevin Roberts, in a recent interview with Business Insider, Publicis Groupe Chairman & CEO, Maurice Lévy addressed a statement internally to all Publicis Groupe employees to reiterate the Groupe’s no-tolerance policy towards behavior or commentary counter to the spirit of Publicis Groupe and its celebration of difference as captured in the motto Viva la Difference!

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.

Diversity & 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 organization 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.

Photographer Kate Ayrton | Source saatchikevin.com

Photographer Kate Ayrton | Source saatchikevin.com

As the furore broke on Roberts’ comments, Gallop tweeted: “What’s noteworthy is that white guys can’t get away with this any more.”

See Gallop’s keynote address to Mumbrella360:

Tim Burrowes

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