Less than 24 hours after Kevin Roberts, chairman at Saatchi & Saatchi, sparked an industry-wide furor by telling Business Insider that there was no gender diversity issue at his agency, Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy issued a statement distancing himself and his holding company from the embattled executive.
"The opinion expressed by Kevin is neither shared nor supported by myself or the Groupe," said Levy via e-mail. "It is his own, expressed in his unique and provocative way and does not reflect the Groupe opinion or policy."
Levy’s comments are the latest in a firestorm of criticism aimed at Roberts’ since he told Business Insider’s Lara O’Reilly that, when it comes to gender diversity, "the fucking debate is over."
Roberts told BI that because Saatchis’ staff is now 65% female, he no longer spends "any time" on gender diversity issues, saying the problem is far worse in other industries, such as finance.
Confronted with statistics suggesting women are grossly under-represented in the top echelons of management, Roberts seemed to suggest that the problem lay with a lack of ambition among women themselves.
"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'," Roberts said.
Further inviting criticism, Roberts took a swipe at former diversity advocate and former BBH chair Cindy Gallop, saying, "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]."
Gallop told BI: "The best response to that is to throw it open to the industry, and ask the women and men of the ad industry, all around the world, to tweet at @krconnect to let him know whether they think I'm 'making it all up'."
Predictably, the industry reacted vociferously Friday night and into Saturday morning, with top executives such as Brad Jakeman, president of the global beverage group at PepsiCo, Wendy Clark, NA CEO at DDB Worldwide and Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO at Airbnb, criticizing Roberts on Twitter.
Nancy Hill, outgoing CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said in an email message, "I think most women in the industry would disagree with Mr. Roberts."
Here is a sampling of the criticism leveled at Roberts on Twitter so far.
— BradJakeman (@BradJakeman) July 29, 2016
25 yrs ago I was an ad agency receptionist. Today I'm the CEO. I'm much happier in the c-suite, thanks all the same. https://t.co/Mf9OWKEAuS— wendy clark (@wnd) July 29, 2016
Right then glad that's sorted. https://t.co/5rArqPmjCh— Nils Leonard (@nilsleonard) July 29, 2016