Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Saatchi & Saatchi's Kevin Roberts stood down after controversial interview

Kevin Roberts has been put on leave from his role as chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi after a controversial interview. Photo / Duncan Cole
Kevin Roberts has been put on leave from his role as chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi after a controversial interview. Photo / Duncan Cole

Kiwi advertising guru Kevin Roberts has been put on leave from his role as chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi after a controversial interview in which he said that there was no gender bias in the advertising industry.

Speaking to the Business Insider, Roberts said he did not spend any time on gender issues at his agencies at all, and that the issue was "way worse in sectors like financial services", where there are "problems left, right and centre".

When the publication remarked how the gender diversity debate raged on within the advertising industry he responded with: "Not in my view."

He added: "Edward de Bono [the physician, psychologist, and author] once told me there is no point in being brilliant at the wrong thing - the f***ing debate is all over. This is a diverse world, we are in a world where we need, like we've never needed before, integration, collaboration, connectivity, and creativity."

Business Insider said to Roberts during the interview that even though there were several females working in the advertising industry, women's campaigners like advertising consultant Cindy Gallop still tweeted a lot about gender issues in the sector.

Roberts - reported by Bloomberg to have earned $4.7m last year - told them: "I think she's got problems that are of her own making. I think she's making up a lot of the stuff to create a profile, and to take applause, and to get on a soap[box]."

He said there was a challenge at Saatchi in elevating female creatives into top roles.

"We have a bunch of talented, creative females, but they reach a certain point in their careers ... 10 years of experience, when we are ready to make them a creative director of a big piece of business, and I think we fail in two out of three of those choices because the executive involved said: 'I don't want to manage a piece of business and people, I want to keep doing the work'.".

"If you think about those Darwinian urges of wealth, power, and fame - they are not terribly effective in today's world for a millennial because they want connectivity and collaboration. They feel like they can get that without managing and leading, so maybe we have got the definition wrong."

He said many women and men simply wanted to be happy and do great work, which management overlooked.

"So we are trying to impose our antiquated shit on them, and they are going: 'Actually guys, you're missing the point, you don't understand: I'm way happier than you.' 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. I can't talk about sexual discrimination because we've never had that problem, thank goodness."

The comments upset his employer Publicis Groupe, which said in a statement yesterday that it had asked him to take a leave of absence, effectively immediately.

Chief executive Maurice Levy said the company had a no-tolerance approach "towards behaviour or commentary counter to the spirit of Publicis Group and its celebration of difference..."

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."

In the interview, Roberts pointed to the 50/50 split of men and women working at Publicis Group and said 65 per cent of the Saatchi & Saatchi's staff were women because the agency wanted to reflect the buyers of the products it was advertising.

Roberts moved to Auckland in 1989 to work for Lion Nathan, before going on to become global chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi in New York.

He is New Zealand citizen and was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for services to business and the community.

- NZ Herald

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