Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts Placed on ‘Leave of Absence’ Over Gender Comments

CEOs of the agency and Publicis have disavowed him

Saatchi & Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts has been asked by his agency's holding company, Publicis Groupe, to take a leave of absence due to his recent, dismissive comments about gender balance and women in leadership.

Publicis' Supervisory Board will then "further evaluate his standing," according to a statement released today by the holding company. Saatchi's global CEO has also released a statement in opposition to Roberts' comments and emphasizing the agency's commitment to diversity.

Roberts infuriated many advocates for diversity and gender balance by making several comments this week in an interview with Business Insider. When asked about the debate over gender bias in the industry, he told the publication that "the fucking debate is all over" and said many women are content never to reach leadership roles because they lack the "vertical ambition" of men.

Although Publicis CEO Maurice Lévy had already distanced himself from the comments by noting that Roberts' view "is neither shared nor supported by myself or the Groupe," the statement issued later in the day was far more critical of the Saatchi exec:

"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."

Saatchi & Saatchi's own worldwide CEO, Robert Senior, has also released a statement disavowing Roberts' comments:

"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 percent 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."​