Kevin Roberts Will Resign as Saatchi Chairman After Backlash Over Gender Comments

Already placed on leave, exit will be official Sept. 1

Less than a week after making dismissive comments about gender bias in the ad industry, Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts has opted to resign, effective Sept. 1.

Roberts was placed on a leave of absence shortly after backlash erupted over a July 29 article in Business Insider highlighted his opinion that gender balance has already been achieved in advertising, colorfully noting "the fucking debate is all over."

He further infuriated diversity advocates by saying the lack of women in executive roles could be because women don't have the "vertical ambition" of men. He also attacked the industry's gender-balance advocate 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."

Today, Saatchi parent company Publicis Groupe sent the following statement to news outlets: "Publicis Groupe announced today the resignation of Kevin Roberts, Head Coach de Publicis Groupe, Executive Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi/Fallon, Member of the Management Board. The Supervisory Board and the Chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe took note of Kevin Robert's decision to step down with effect from September 1st 2016, prior to his retirement date due in May 2017."

In a statement to news outlets including The New York Times and U.K. advertising magazine Campaign, Roberts tried to explain his decision to leave the company:

"'Fail Fast, Fix Fast, Learn Fast' is a leadership maxim I advocate. When discussing with Business Insider evolving career priorities and new ways of work/life integration, I failed exceptionally fast. My miscommunication on a number of points has caused upset and offense, and for this I am sorry.

"I have inadvertently embarrassed Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis Groupe, two companies I love and have been devoted to for almost 20 years."

Roberts notably stops short of recanting his comments, though. His statement instead simply acknowledges that there are many vocal opinions on the issues of gender balance and empowering female employees as leaders:

"There is a lot of learning to reflect on," Roberts wrote in the statement, "and within the thousands of tweets, comments and articles there are many powerful and passionate contributions on the changing nature of the workplace, the work we do, what success really looks like, and what companies must do to provide women and men the optimal frameworks in which to flourish."