We need to talk about Kevin Roberts | Lisa Barnwell

Recently I wrote a post outlining why I felt it was (mostly) a positive time for women in business.

Now I believe it really is.

Kevin Roberts Saatchi & Saatchi featuredUnless you’ve been living under a rock you will know Kevin Roberts, the executive chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi has resigned after saying amongst other things, the gender diversity debate was “all over”. As they say “hell hath no fury like a women scorned” and women thankfully, didn’t take his comments lying down.

Women and some men, spoke up and advised Kevin that actually No. He’d Got It Wrong.

His bosses at French parent company Publicis Groupe put him on leave immediately following his fateful interview with Business Insider and Maurice Lévy, the chief executive of Publicis’ swift statement confirmed their position.
To say the pressure will be on the advertising giant to lead the charge within adland to create a fair and balanced culture for its thousands of female employees alongside their male counterparts, and deliver briefs without unconscious bias, is an understatement. Perhaps they could also have a chat with Rachel Pashley, J.Walter Thompson’s Group Planning Head and the original creator of their global initiative Female TribesTM to understand the value of female capital.

Roberts said he did not spend any time on gender issues at his agencies, saying the issue was “way worse” in sectors such as financial services, where there are “problems left, right and centre”. I am sure that went down like a led balloon with the first 72 signatories of the Women in Finance Charter who may now decide to spend their advertising budgets elsewhere.

It’s true, the financial industry isn’t perfect but it’s only the completely out of touch that aren’t embracing equality and trying to understand the issues, seeking new ways to ensure women have the same opportunities as men and understanding that our differences are our strengths.

(That includes the investment head I met recently who told me “the finance industry is old-fashioned” apparently letting him off the hook for admitting he’s not been in contact with his one, new mother employee because his lawyers said not to. His approach seemed to match something out of The Rules circa 1995. I don’t know one new mother who would feel that a wall of silence and disconnect would say “we want you so badly”.. But hey, I just coach and consult on this subject.

If companies aren’t as diverse, inclusive and smart about gender as they want to be, there’s no excuse not to change. And as we’ve seen with Kevin, our tolerance for ignorance is low.

135 companies across all industries are part of TNON, soon to be Gender Networks created by current co-chair, diversity champion and WeAreTheCity founder Vanessa Vallely. The group regularly come together to share best practice, have topical discussions and basically learn how to do business better. If you need some guidance you’ll gain plenty of support and insights here.

I believe it is an exciting time to be a women. Or a man. If you’re open to moving forward, letting go of gender stereotypes but accepting we definitely aren’t “there” yet.
It’s a time when the power of the collective (and social media) can bring someone at the top to publicly say I’m sorry and “I failed exceptionally fast” when they miss the point, big time.

I’m sure Kevin Roberts was not alone in his thoughts but hopefully those who felt aligned will seek out ways to challenge their limiting beliefs and be under no illusion that to think like Kevin, is just not cool.

As an advocate for balanced leadership (that is women and men at the top and women and men who embrace both masculine and feminine defined qualities and behaviour) and a champion for corporates who want to retain mothers and help them to rise, I hope this is a turning point. A watershed moment when companies and individuals get that being inclusive is a business imperative and help is needed to wise up. Fast.

I think Kevin has unintentionally done us a favour. His lack of connection and inability to realise that the gender debate is far from over might be the wake-up call others need to step up and take action. We need to talk about the problems, the misconceptions and the sweeping judgements that exist across all industries that are hampering talent and pitting women against men.

In less than seven days the gender debate has moved front and centre. I don’t condone what Kevin Robert’s said but I do think it can prove helpful that he said it.

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About the author

Lisa Barnwell has over 15 years experience working with more than 2000 women and their corporations through the pregnancy journey and transition to motherhood. She is the Founder of Bumps and the Boardroom and leading the campaign “Changing 100,000 Lives” which aims to positively change the maternity journey of 100,000 women and girls by 2020. www.lisabarnwell.co.uk @Bumpsnbabyguru @BumpsHQ Facebook: www.facebook.com/bumpsandtheboardroom

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