The debate about gender diversity in advertising is far from over

August 1st, 2016

That’s clear based on the swift and dramatic reaction that unfolded the last 72 hours regarding Friday’s Business Insider interview with Kevin Roberts, Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi. In the interview with Lara O’Reilly at Business Insider, Roberts dismissed the ongoing debate about gender bias in the ad industry and claimed that he does not spend “any time” on an issue which he feels “is over”. Perhaps the most incendiary comment in the interview was a generalization about the motivation of women, “Their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy.”

Condemnation of his remarks was swift.

On Saturday Publicis announced that he was put on leave:

“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.”

Publicis said its supervisory board will decide on Roberts’ future at Saatchi & Saatchi.

The fact that Kevin Roberts has been suspended over suggestions that the debate over gender bias in leadership is ‘all over’ only goes to prove that the talking is far from done.

The stats clearly show there is still gender bias in the ad industry that needs to be addressed.  While the advertising workforce may be nearly evenly split between male and female, the ad industry is solidly male-dominated at senior levels. Recent statistics reveal that less than a third of management/leadership positions are filled by women. The numbers get worse in the creative department.

Generalizations like those made by Roberts only serve to perpetuate the ‘women just aren’t as ambitious as men’ myth that we’ve been fighting against for years. That’s why his interview set my teeth on edge and I suspect many felt the same way.

There is one thing I agree with Roberts on: there’s been enough debate. It’s time for real, actionable change.

BTW here’s our C-Suite at Bozell circa 2016. And we are quite happy with our roles.