PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) — Kevin Roberts, chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, was suspended by owner Publicis after the legendary advertising boss said some women lacked "vertical ambition" and that low numbers of women in senior positions was not a problem.
Roberts, the British-born executive of Saatchi & Saatchi, was quoted in an interview with Business Insider website as saying that he doesn't spend any time on gender issues as the gender diversity debate was over in the advertising world.
He said that some women at key junctures in their careers did not want to lead businesses and people and that managers should reflect on how to deal with the ambitions of female and male employees who "simply want to be happy and do great work".
"Their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it's this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy," Roberts was quoted as saying by Business Insider.
"So they say: 'We are not judging ourselves by those standards that you idiotic dinosaur-like men judge yourself by'.
Publicis Groupe has around a 50-50 gender split amongst all its staff, while around 65 percent of Saatchi & Saatchi’s staff are female, as the agency wants to reflect the buyers of the types of products it is advertising, Roberts told Business Insider.
Publicis said it had asked Roberts to take an immediate leave of absence as the group did not tolerate "anyone speaking for our organization who does not value the importance of inclusion".
The row engulfing Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the world's most famous advertising agencies, comes just days after Roger Ailes resigned as chairman and chief executive of Fox News Channel <FOXA.O> following allegations of sexual harassment.
"TALENTED, CREATIVE FEMALES"
Roberts, who is described on his www.saatchikevin.com website as an uncompromisingly positive and inspirational leader, could not be reached for comment on the situation. Saatchi & Saatchi did not pass on any response from Roberts.
In the interview Roberts appeared to argue that "idiotic dinosaur-like men" were trying to make women conform to Darwinian urges to acquire wealth, power, and fame.
"I don't think (the lack of women in leadership roles) is a problem. I'm just not worried about it because they are very happy, they're very successful, and doing great work," he said in the interview.
"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’," he said.
But from within Saatchi, Roberts' position was questioned.
"Women don't bail out. I think we do want the top jobs," Saatchi & Saatchi chief creative officer Kate Stanners told BBC radio, adding that there had been a strong reaction from employees within Saatchi & Saatchi and the wider group.
"I think the most important thing is encouraging women to be more vocal and more high profile, so younger women and women coming through the ranks can see that it is possible and there's no reason they can't take those jobs."
Roberts, born in 1949, started his career at London fashion house Mary Quant before working for Gillette, Procter & Gamble and Pepsi.
Robert Senior, worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, said the agency was a meritocracy.
"Kevin Roberts 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," Senior said.
"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."