Publicis has Kevin Roberts take leave of absence as it mulls his fate

Publicis Groupe has asked Saatchi & Saatchi executive chairman and the holding company’s head coach Kevin Roberts to take a leave of absence from his job, after the executive made a series of damning comments about gender diversity and inclusion in the industry in an interview with Business Insider. During his leave, Roberts’ future with the company is up to the supervisory board of the Paris-based holding company.

Publicis CEO Maurice Levy sent an internal memo to employees to “reiterate the Groupe’s no-tolerance policy toward behavior or commentary counter to the spirit of Publicis Groupe and its celebration of difference.” Roberts is a high-ranking Publicis official, serving on its top executive management unit.

In an interview with Business Insider, Roberts said that the issue of gender diversity is overblown by people in the industry and the problem of few female leadership is actually “way worse” in other industries. He also said that just because women aren’t being promoted doesn’t mean that agencies are failing, it’s that they don’t understand how women view success. “Women are saying: ‘We are not judging ourselves by those standards that you idiotic dinosaur-like men impose’,” he said, adding that the debate about gender equality was “over” and he wasn’t spending time trying to fix at Publicis agencies.

After he made the comments, industry activist Cindy Gallop, who was accused by Roberts of fueling the issue just to raise her profile, asked the industry to tweet what they thought at Roberts. Plenty did, including Pepsi exec Brad Jakeman and Taco Bell CMO Marisa Thalberg. This is what BBDO executive creative director Lauren Connolly had to say:

Sources said that Publicis Communications CEO Arthur Sadoun also sent a memo to employees following Roberts’ comments that said, in part, that he found Roberts’ remarks offensive and that this behavior was not acceptable within the Groupe. “I am sorry that the comments made by Kevin have reflected poorly upon the Groupe and our culture,” he wrote.

It’s the latest embarrassing public statement from a Publicis exec. At the 4A’s conference in Miami in March, Lévy himself came under fire for saying that the case of Gustavo Martinez, the JWT CEO ousted after he was accused of racial and sexual harassment, was a one-man case and not indicative of wider problems in the agency world.

Only 11 percent of the executive and management positions inside the ad industry are held by women, according to industry averages. And women continue to come out to speak about the rampant sexism when it comes to working and being promoted in the industry.

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