Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts given leave as Publicis Groupe to 'evaluate his standing' following gender debate comments controversy

Saatchi & Saatchi chairman and head coach of Publicis Groupe Kevin Roberts has been given a leave of absence from the company as the decision on his future is taken by the Publicis Groupe Supervisory Board.

Kevin Roberts

The decision was made following a statement released earlier on Saturday by Maurice Levy which distanced himself and the company from Robert's comments in an interview with Business Insider where he claimed the gender debate was 'done' and added that sexism was worse in other sectors such as the finance, a storm has erupted condemning him.

He went on to belittle the work of prominent industry figures such as 3% Conference's Kat Gordon and former BBH NYC chief Cindy Gallop who have led the fight for gender equality in the industry too.

Of Gallop he commented: "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 soapbox."

The statement from Publicis on the future of Roberts read: "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."

Meanwhile, in a statement released by Saatchi & Saatchi, Robert Senior, worldwide CEO of the agency added: “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 per cent 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."​

The decision by Publicis Groupe to review Robert's 'standing' follows many calls for his departure from the company after the publishing of the interview on Friday (29 July.)

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Stephen Lepitak

Stephen Lepitak is editor of The Drum, with responsibility for overseeing the day-to-day running of the content produced for the various platforms run by the publication. Over the years he has interviewed agency network bosses such as Sir Martin Sorrell, Maurice Lévy and Arthur Sadoun, as well as Cindy Gallop, Kim Kardashian, film directors James Cameron, Spike Jonze, Richard Curtis and Lord David Puttnam. With a keen interest in media and breaking news, Lepitak has been with The Drum since 2005 and is based across its UK, US and Asia operations.

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