By Jonathan Joyner
Earlier this year, Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts doesn’t believe that the lack of women in advertising is any issue anymore. In his Business Insider interview he said “the fucking debate is all over.” Roberts cited advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi’s 65 percent female employee pool and parent company Publicis Groupe’s 50-50 total gender split in regards to why the problem no longer exists.
Roberts doubled down and millennial women are happy with their lack of leadership roles:
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.
Even just quoting him, I cringe. I can’t imagine any context that makes Mr. Robert’s statement appropriate besides a satirical piece on Saturday Night Live or other sketch comedy show.
It’s my option that people who are not discriminated against are often very quick to say that something is over, that there is no more debate, or we’ve already dealt with it. It’s unintentional ignorance. To a married, heterosexual, cisgender white male like Roberts, racisms, sexism, and homophobia are issues of the past because it doesn’t happen to him. To him, sexism was never a problem.
As chairmen of one of the biggest players in the advertising industry, it is a problem. Thankfully, Publicis CEO Maurice Lévy quickly release the following statement:
“is neither shared nor supported by myself or the Groupe,
“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.”
Following Lévy’s remarks, Robert Senior, the worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, also put out a statement renouncing Roberts’ comments:
“Kevin has given what are his personal views on the subject of gender diversity. However, those views are not mine, and nor are they the position of the agency.
“Saatchi & Saatchi is, and has always been, a meritocracy. We live and die by our people, our talent, and it makes no difference to us whether that talent is male or female. Indeed, I’m very proud to be able to say that 65 percent of our staff are female, and it is to our great benefit that we have women in senior leadership roles across our business.
“However, 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. This is what we strive for at Saatchi & Saatchi, and is what we will continue to strive for alongside all of the best agencies in our industry.”
I’m glad Robert’s sexist comments came out because he obviously has this opinion and it has shaped his business interactions with people. I also applaud the swiftness of Saatchi & Saatchi’s response and their wellness to speak out against not only one of their own, but somebody as high ranking as him. It’s not a small undertaking or the most positive for their company.
A few days following his leave, Roberts did resign or was pressured to (that’s just speculation on my part), but that story didn’t receive nearly as much attention of his initial statements.
If the AMC series Mad Men is to be believed, sexism was the status quo in the advertising industry (and the rest of America) for a long time. Sixty-seven-year-old Kevin Roberts wasn’t alone in these views. Respectfully, I don’t think that Mr. Roberts developed these opinions overnight. It’s likely not the first time he’s though disparagingly about women in the advertising field. This instance was just more public.
Just because something is written on paper, doesn’t mean that’s really their actions. Companies can easily deny a qualified applicant with the phrase “wasn’t a good fit with our culture,” which could be a coded message for “too female,” “too ethnic,” or “too gay.” A case happened this summer in which an applicant was denied a job because of his Somali heritage, but it wasn’t coded as well.
The letter Hagi-Yusuf received back on May 8, 2015 read:
“I have read stories about how Somalia has a culture of resistance to authority. Such a culture would be quite different than the Canadian culture sees makes cutting ahead in a lineup as a great social error.
“The investment industry is a subculture with its own rules and traditions. It is normal for people to train for entry into this field. While your academic career suggests the training would be well within your competence, there is no demonstrated enthusiasm in past experience for entering this subculture.
“Due to lack of background, I must decline your application.
“Good luck with finding a suitable position.”
The letter was signed by J Sandy Matheson of Integral Wealth Securities Limited.
While too much dissonance is just bickering and nothing gets accomplished. A little dissonance can be a good thing. As America becomes more and more diverse, it’s important that not everyone in an office have the same view and background. Otherwise, it’s just becomes an echo chamber. While I’m praising a campaign from different advertising agency, it’s important to think different(ly).
I really hope that that Saatchi & Saatchi are true to their words and their motto and that the public holds them accountable to having more diversity in their leadership roles. Not only because as a minority, I’d benefit from it, but because it’s the right thing to do ethically and from a business standpoint.