Publicis Puts Saatchi Chairman on Leave on Diversity Remarks

  • Move follows statements that seem to dismiss gender bias
  • ‘Diversity & inclusion are business imperatives,’ Levy Says

Publicis Groupe SA put the chairman of its Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency on leave after he was quoted dismissing the debate on gender bias as “over.”

In a wide-ranging interview with Business Insider published Friday, Saatchi & Saatchi Executive Chairman Kevin Roberts said he doesn’t spend “any time” on gender issues at his agency, saying the issue is “way worse” in sectors such as financial services, where there are “problems left, right, and center.”

“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,” Publicis Chief Executive Officer Maurice Lévy said Saturday in a statement. “It will ultimately be the Publicis Groupe Supervisory Board’s duty to further evaluate his standing.”

Roberts’s remarks don’t uphold the no-tolerance policy toward behavior or commentary in the “spirit of Publicis Groupe and its celebration of difference,” according to the statement. “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 said in the statement, which also was released internally to employees.

Publicis is a multinational advertising and public relations firm based in Paris. It has owned Saatchi & Saatchi since 2000.

Roberts, 66, didn’t respond to an e-mail sent to his work address. Prior to becoming chairman, Roberts served as CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi from 1997 until 2014. A citizen of New Zealand, he was born in the north of England, according to his biography on Saatchi & Saatchi’s website.

Roberts’ views “are not mine, and nor are they the position of the agency,” Robert Senior, worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, said in a statement. He said he was proud that 65 percent of the agency’s staff was female, including women in senior leadership roles across the business.

Levy, who is 74 years old, added: “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.”

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