- Kevin Roberts, the chairman of Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi, has been put on a leave of absence after saying the debate over gender discrimination in the advertising world is "over" in an interview with Business Insider.
- Diversity is a bigger issue in other industries, such as financial services, Roberts said, adding that the doesn’t spend any time on gender issues at his agency.
- The comments violate Publicis' zero tolerance stance on behavior and commentary around diversity issues, Publicis Chief Executive Officer Maurice Lévy said in a statement, as reported by Bloomberg.
Allegations of sexism continue to roil the advertising world, with Roberts' remarks simply being the latest controversial episode in the debate over gender discrimination.
The debate was sparked by a lawsuit outlining pervasive sexual and racial discrimination against WPP’s J. Walter Thompson agency and its CEO Gustavo Martinez, who lost his job as a result of the suit.
Not long after the issue was made public, Publicis CEO Maurice Levy and WPP CEO Martin Sorrell jostled verbally at an industry event, with Levy saying the suit was an isolated incident that's not indicative of widespread problems. Sorrell countered that sexism was an industry-wide issue.
Roberts' remarks (and subsequent suspension) appear to prove Sorrell's point, and thrust Publicis and Levy into the spotlight of the debate over diversity in the industry.
"I don't think [the lack of women in leadership roles] is a problem," Roberts told Business Insider. "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."
Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Robert Senior said in a statement that Roberts’ views were his and alone, not the position of Senior or the agency. Senior said he was proud of the fact that 65% of the agency’s staff is female.
“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 Chief Executive Officer Maurice Lévy said Saturday in a statement. “It will ultimately be the Publicis Groupe Supervisory Board’s duty to further evaluate his standing.