Saatchi boss suspended after claiming that the gender debate is ‘all over’ and the lack of women in leadership is not a problem

Kevin Roberts, Saatchi & Saatchi
Photographer: Kate Ayrton

Kevin Roberts, chairman of the advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi has been put on an ‘immediate leave of absence’ after claiming that the gender equality debate is ‘all over’ and that the lack of women in leadership roles is not a problem.

Speaking in a recent interview with Business Insider, when asked whether he thought the gender diversity debate was still relevant in the advertising industry, Roberts replied: “Not in my view.”

Continuing, he said, “Edward de Bono [the physician, psychologist, and author] once told me there is no point in being brilliant at the wrong thing – the f***ing 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.”

Roberts also went on to speak about women’s ambition in the workplace, saying, “Their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy.”

“So they say: ‘We are not judging ourselves by those standards that you idiotic dinosaur-like men judge yourself by.”

“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.”

Roberts also raised his views on the advertisement consultant, Cindy Gallop, who regularly speaks out about gender equality. He said, “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].”

Following the publication of his interview on Friday 29th July, Saatchi’s parent company, Publicis Groupe issued a statement 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.”

“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 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.”

According to the statement, the decision regarding the future of Roberts will be made by the Publicis Groupe Supervisory Board. Roberts has been at Saatchi and Saatchi for 19 years, after being appointed CEO in 1997. He has previously held roles at Gillette, Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Pepsi Cola.

About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.

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