Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts Asked to Take Leave After Gender Comments

Exec Suggested the Gender Diversity Debate Was 'Over'

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Kevin Roberts
Kevin Roberts Credit: Kate Ayrton/Saatchi & Saatchi

Publicis Groupe has asked Saatchi & Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts to take a leave of absence following controversial remarks he made suggesting that the ad industry's gender diversity debate is over.

"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," Publicis Chairman CEO Maurice Levy said in statement. "As a member of The Directoire, it will ultimately be the Publicis Groupe Supervisory Board's duty to further evaluate his standing. regarding gender diversity."

He added: "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."

In an interview with Business Insider published Friday morning, Mr. Roberts said that "fucking debate is all over" when asked about the gender diversity in the ad industry. Mr. Roberts -- who also carries the title of "head coach" for Publicis Groupe -- also told the publication that he doesn't spend "any time" on gender issues at his agencies. He said the gender issue is "way worse" in industries such as financial services, where there are "problems left, right, and center."

His comments sparked strong rebuttals from marketing and competing ad agency executives. High-ranking leaders from PepsiCo, JPMorgan Chase, DDB and other companies ripped Mr. Roberts on Twitter. PepsiCo Global Beverage Group President Brad Jakeman, for instance, tweeted that he was proud not to be a Saatchi client.

In its statement, Publicis Groupe did not say if Mr. Roberts has agreed to take the leave of absence. But he might not have a choice, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Roberts did not immediately reply to an email from Ad Age.

In a statement issued Saturday afternoon -- around the same time the Publicis Groupe statement went out -- Robert Senior, worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, said the following:

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% 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.

Arthur Sadoun, Publicis Communications' CEO, also addressed the situation in an internal email to employees:

I know that many of you have seen Kevin Robert's comments in Business Insider online. Maurice Levy has already issued a statement condemning Kevin's remarks and making it clear that neither he nor the Groupe support Kevin's opinions. He is also taking some strong actions.

I am seeing a lot of comments from colleagues, clients and friends and I feel it is important that you also understand my personal point of view on this issue.

First, Kevin's remarks are wholly inconsistent with the beliefs and values of Publicis Groupe, and they are inconsistent with my own personal beliefs and values. Viva la Difference is not a line; it is who we are and how we behave. I am very proud of being part of the Groupe that is doing so much on gender equality but I acknowledge that we, our industry and business at large are not where we need to be or where we aspire to be. This is an issue of critical importance to the Publicis groupe and we are committed to being a role model. We have much more to do on this issue; it is a priority for me and all of Publicis Groupe leadership.

Second, the way Kevin's remarks were expressed I find offensive in terms of language and tonality. Behavior like this is simply unacceptable in our Groupe.

I am sorry that the comments made by Kevin have reflected poorly upon the Groupe and our culture. His views couldn't be further from the truth about our commitment and feelings about gender diversity. But what matters is not words on Twitter but acts. So let's continue to act in a way that will make us all proud.

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