Livia Esterhazy, who heads one of New Zealand's top advertising agencies, says there is "still much work to do" to improve gender diversity in the advertising industry, but "we have moved a long way in 15 years".

In emailed comments to questions from BusinessDesk, Clemenger BBDO's managing director in New Zealand said she had "seen and been privy to" to sexist behaviour in the advertising sector, "but it has never stopped my personal career path - nor have I let it".

"Nor do I let it for anyone in my team. There is still much work to do, but I can say that we have moved a long way in 15 years," she said, reacting to the furore created by comments to the Australian Business Insider publication by Saatchi & Saatchi's global executive chairman, Kevin Roberts, who dismissed gender diversity as a non-issue in the ad industry and disparaged women in the industry whom he thought were milking the issue for profile.

Roberts, who also acts as a coach for Saatchi's ultimate owner, the French-owned Publicis Groupe, was placed on immediate leave of absence and subjected to a slew of critical comment from colleagues and rivals alike.


Esterhazy sought to take a constructive line, saying: " Love it or loathe it, what's happened here is that Kevin has opened up discussion on issues of diversity, not just in our industry but in others too. That's got to be a good thing because if we're not all talking about it, nothing is going to change and there is actually some good progress being made."

"As the leader of our agency Clemenger BBDO in Wellington, we're hitting out of the park in terms of gender diversity at a senior level," she said.

"Across the whole industry we have some work to do, and there is a genuine desire to change.

"In the Clemenger Group, for example (more than a dozen marketing services companies in New Zealand of which Clemenger BBDO is one) we set up a Gender Diversity Group two years ago and have targeted 40 per cent of our leaders to be women of which we have reached 37 per cent; but there is still much to do."

On Roberts's claim that younger, "millennial" generation women - and men - were often less interested in the top job than doing great work, Esterhazy said: "These comments are such a generalisation and from where I sit there are a group of fabulous people who are inspired by a career path, whatever that may be, in leadership or otherwise.

"In our team, we have highly ambitious people who want a career path and would never want to be overlooked for a management position, in fact, they regularly put their hand up to help with leadership and management projects. Having the option and the choice to keep progressing is what is critical here. It's central to motivation and work happiness and fulfilment."