Archived: 'Women don't aspire to be leaders' says Saatchi Chairman

UPDATE: 8/3/16 11:03 A.M. Saatchi & Saatchi Executive Chairman Kevin Roberts will resign from his position, effective September 1, following his comments during a Business Insider interview regarding gender diversity in the ad industry. Roberts was already slated to retire in May 2017.

“When discussing with Business Insider evolving career priorities and new ways of work/life integration, I failed exceptionally fast,” Roberts said in a statement. “My miscommunication on a number of points has caused upset and offense, and for this I am sorry.”

His statement sharply contrasts with his comments on Friday, at which time he said “the [gender] debate is f****** over” and alleged that women don’t aspire to be leaders.

Publicis did not comment on whether or not Roberts’ retirement package will be the same as the one he was slated to receive in May, the Wall Street Journal reported. Originally, if Roberts was forced to leave, he would entitled to 120 percent of his annual fixed salary, the maximum yearly amount of his target bonus and the yearly cost of all of his benefits. However, these terms apply “other than in the case of serious or gross misconduct.”

Notable business executives responded to Roberts’ comments, including JPMorgan Chase Chief Marketing Officer Kristin Lemkau, who on Twitter called the comments “positively Trumpian.”

Publicis Groupe Chief Executive Maurice Levy had previously said the company “will not tolerate anyone speaking for our organization who does not value the importance of inclusion.”

Levy himself has previously been at the center of comments dismissing gender diversity in the industry. In response to a lawsuit filed against J. Walter Thompson citing sexism at the hands of the chief executive, Levy called the problems “a one-man mistake” and did not speak to the bigger picture.


Executive chairman at Saatchi & Saatchi Kevin Roberts has been placed on leave, effective immediately, after saying the advertising industry does not have issues regarding gender diversity and insisting that women simply don’t have “vertical ambition” when it comes to moving into management roles.

In an interview with Business Insider, Roberts explained that “the f***ing debate is all over” because “we are in a world where we need, like we’ve never needed before, integration, collaboration, connectivity, and creativity.”

Despite this need, women remain very underrepresented in management positions across the country. Among the S&P 500 companies, women make up just 25.1 percent of total management. In comparison, among DiversityInc Top 50 Companies, women represent 41.4 percent of total management.

Publicis Groupe, Saatchi’s parent company, based in France, is required by law to have at least 40 percent of its executive board made up of women. However, Saatchi, which is not required to meet such a quota, features just three women on itsglobal leadership page.

No major advertising or public relations firm has ever applied to be on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list.

According to Roberts, he doesn’t devote “any time” to gender issues, calling these “problems left, right, and center” and “way worse” in other industries but not in the advertising industry.

According to research published by the 3% Conference, an organization that supports female leadership in advertising agencies, women make up 47 percent of the advertising industry but just 11 percent of creative directors are women.

Roberts further added that women are not in more management roles because they simply don’t aspire to be managers.

“Their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy,” he said. “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.”

However, a study by the Center for Talent Innovation found a different response. Among women in the U.S. ages 35-50, 89 percent said it is very important to be able to flourish in their careers, and 85 percent said it’s very important to be able to excel.

Kate Stanners, Saatchi’s global chief creative officer, responded to Roberts’ comments in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today. According to Stanners, women “don’t bail out, and do want the top jobs.”

But these opportunities will not create themselves, Stanners explained: “I think people have to work to make it an environment that encourages women.”

The 3% Conference’s research confirms Stanners’ statement. When asked what they really want at work, 98.5 percent of the women surveyed said “positive workplace culture,” 96 percent said “inclusive work environment” and 86 percent said “stated support for diversity.”

And this encouragement will build the pipeline, Stanners said, adding companies must be “encouraging women to be more vocal and more high-profile, so younger women and women coming through the ranks cansee it is possible and there is no reason why they can’t take those jobs.”

But the climate for women in advertising is not always inclusive or encouraging, the researchers discovered, which would hinder opportunities to excel or flourish. 25 percent of women in the industry have personally experienced gender discrimination, and 23 percent have personally experienced or witnessed sexual harassment. Of those who experienced it, only 8 percent said the party responsible was appropriately punished.

Maurice Levy, chief executive of Publicis Groupe, said Roberts was placed on leave due to “the gravity of [his] statements.”

“Diversity & inclusion are business imperatives on which Publicis Groupe will not negotiate,” Levy said. “While fostering a work environment that is inclusive of all talent is a collective responsibility, it is a 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.”

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