Ad Age's 2016 Women to Watch Give Views on Gender Diversity

Honorees Offer Insights in Wake of Saatchi & Saatchi Chairman's Resignation

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Advertising Age Women to Watch 2016 luncheon at Cipriani 42 Street.
Advertising Age Women to Watch 2016 luncheon at Cipriani 42 Street. Credit: Patrick Butler
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The Ad Age Women to Watch 2016 event today happened to coincide with the resignation of Saatchi & Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts, who in an incendiary interview with Business Insider last week said, among other things, that "fucking debate is all over" when asked about gender diversity in the ad industry. Over the weekend, holding company Publicis Groupe asked Mr. Roberts to take leave and today he resigned, saying in a statement that he "failed exceptionally fast."

With the topic so much in the spotlight -- the issue was brought up by Advertising Women of New York Executive Director Lynn Branigan during her opening remarks at today's luncheon -- we decided to ask our honorees about their thoughts on gender diversity issues in the industry.

Below are views shared by some of Ad Age's 2016 Women to Watch:

Karen van Bergen, CEO, Omnicom Public Relations Group: "It sure has reignited the debate. I've been incredibly impressed by the follow-up that it has had in Mr. Roberts' own holding company [Publicis Groupe] and the fast action and amazing amount of commentary that shows that people are not in line with his thinking, which is really important."

Mari Kim Novak, chief marketing officer, Rubicon Project: "What occurred this week in the industry is just a sad point because I think there is so much talent and so much creativity that comes when you have a table of diversity for diverse thought and diverse approaches. It's a ridiculous comment for any company to say that it isn't an issue anymore when we look at the numbers in our industry from a statistical level. More importantly, every single executive of every single company should always be striving and keeping any type of topic like diversity top of mind even when we solve it, because even when it is solved, it still should be a topic we're trying to deal with. I'm proud to be a woman and an executive in the advertising industry, but we must come together and we must allow talent whatever color or sex to be represented and to allow this industry to be where it needs to be and not be held back because of short-sightedness that occurs."

Shanté Bacon, founder, CEO, 135th Street Agency: "I feel like anyone who is out there and thinks gender diversity is no longer an issue in marketing communications, media and advertising is a little bit tone deaf and I think they are also not acknowledging the fact that there are diversity disparities between women and men because they don't want to. You can see every single day and in every single election cycle that equal work for equal pay is an issue every single time. The fact that we have had a person who has been beyond qualified to be president, but had to wait until she's 70-plus years old and she's still being held to a higher standard of being honest than any other politician that has ever exited is a classic example that gender diversity is so far from being where it needs to be it's not even funny. I think [Roberts] doesn't know the true meaning of diversity and, in a lot of ways, people who don't' understand something don't even know there's a problem, but because they have the power of the pulpit and they can speak as if they're experts but they just don't know."

Chloe Gottlieb, exec VP-exec creative director, R/GA U.S.: "I believe that great work comes from a diversity of perspectives. Our job as leaders is to make space for those who have different backgrounds and perspectives from ours."

Nannette Lafond-Dufour, global chief client officer, McCann Worldgroup: "It's unfortunate. It inaccurately suggests the industry is not taking the issue seriously and diminishes the progress we have made."

Madonna Badger, chief creative officer, Badger & Winters: "I've been giving this a lot of thought. It worries me that someone could make a comment that huge that Kevin Roberts [who] has had so much [impact] on our agencies, our world, our industry, as well as for women, really tapping into the emotional connection that women have for brands and understanding that consumer so well [had to resign.] He made a comment that was taken really out of context for the bigger comment he was trying to make and [now] that man doesn't have a job. And that really worries me because I don't think we should kill our wounded. I think we should have conversations and figure it out and people shouldn't be just be thrown to the wayside because they made a mistake after a lifetime of standing up for women," she said, specifically citing Lovemarks.