I’m saddened this morning after reading AdWeek “Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts Placed on ‘Leave of Absence’ Over Gender Comments – CEOs of the agency and Publicis have disavowed him“. The controversy (the gender comments) started two days ago in a July 29th Business Insider interview/report “Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts thinks the gender diversity in advertising debate is ‘over’” by Lara O’Reilly (tweet).
Kevin Roberts, Saatchi & Saatchi chairman, is a big boy and doesn’t need defending by anyone especially by an independent reporter. Kevin and I’ve never met once and will likely never meet in person! But I dislike all forms of social media mob trial. Yes, I dislike this mob trial of @KRConnect @PublicisGroupe by social media as much as I dislike #genderbias!
At the end of the day, all reporting must rest on fairness. I’ve asked Business Insider reporter Lara to post her full unedited video/audio interview for the sake of transparency since Kevin has now been placed on ‘Leave of Absence’ because of her interview.
Until Lara can provide us the full unedited video/audio interview to watch/listen to judge for ourselves, I can only base my critique on the written interview. I have excerpted all of Kevin’s quotes from the report and added my emphasis and brief commentaries afterwards.
“Business Insider met with Roberts in London and we remarked how the gender diversity debate rages on within the advertising industry.
“Not in my view,” he responded.
￼￼We bring up the 11.5% stat, and that there have been recent high profile gender discrimination lawsuits filed against advertising executives.
Roberts said: “Edward de Bono [the physician, psychologist, and author] once told me there is no point in being brilliant at the wrong thing — the fucking debate is all over. This is a diverse world, we are in a world where we need, like we’ve never needed before, integration, collaboration, connectivity, and creativity … this will be reflected in the way the Groupe is.““
In hindsight, saying “the fucking debate is all over” is not something I would say diplomatically BUT Kevin is Kevin and he has strong opinions on things and some people love (or hate) him for being who hie is. But he tries to make his key points later in the interview, so keep reading!
I think Kevin sees the most important thing/the major challenge ahead as, “This is a diverse world, we are in a world where we need, like we’ve never needed before, integration, collaboration, connectivity, and creativity […]”
“We suggest that even though there are many females working in the advertising industry, women’s campaigners like advertising consultant Cindy Gallop still have lots to tweet about when it comes to gender issues in
Roberts said: “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].”“
Well, again, the highlighted sentence is not the most diplomatic way to put things and I don’t know Ms. Cindy Gallop well enough to judge whether there are merits in the statement. But is that a sentence that deserve capital punishment? I think not.
“We put that statement to Gallop, who responded: “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’.““
Are we trying to discuss things rationally and trying to move things forward (more gender equality)? Or do we want to have the thrill of a social media mob trial of Kevin? A global social media mob trial, 140 characters at a time? Nice work!
I thought it is important to take careful consideration, thinking, planning, persistent actions, etc to break long held & tough challenges in an industry? No? Of course, social media mob trial and lynching Kevin is surely faster and more fun! Why not lynch first, and think later, right?
“Roberts said he doesn’t spend “any time” on supposed gender issues at his agencies at all — saying the issue is “way worse” in sectors like financial services, where there are “problems left, right, and center.”
Where this is a gender related challenge at Saatchi, he said, is elevating female creatives into top roles.
“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.“
The above highlighted paragraph is perhaps the most important and critical section because Kevin talks about real world examples in his company.
Let me make things clear. To me, Kevin did not say anything negative above female creatives or executives in the above paragraph. Correct me if I am wrong.
Quoting the article, I read when Kevin saw “talented, creative females” and tried to appoint them to “manage a piece of business and people“, they said no because they “want to keep doing the work“.
I hope no one has any problem with appointing a manager based on merits and abilities. You see, in life, there are a lot of people who love to take power to lead (both women and men) when they are NOT as qualified as their co-workers.
As an aside and as a powerful example (I hope) , I took my computer science undergrad degree at University of Toronto. We were fortunate enough to have a group of world class professors (who also do research) teaching us new Comp Sci students. Many of the professors were qualified (both men and women) to act as head of the department but none of them really want to be appoint as Comp Sci department head because they all want to focus on their own work and research.
So I understood that they ended up taking 2-3 years turn to be department head as a disliked chore that must be done before they turn back to their own work/research! My point is some talented people (females and males) LOVE their work (like Kevin tries to point out and seemed to have been lost) and don’t give a flying fuck about managing business nor people.
The best people LOVE their work. You can’t pay them a bit more money (or even a ton more) to do the other shit that they don’t like. Money is cool, but sometimes (nowadays) not important enough to do something one hates.
“Historically, advertising companies have looked at this kind of scenario as a failure — but Roberts, who earlier in our conversation suggests it’s an area that his company “can’t figure out,” later suggests that perhaps agencies would do well to look at the issue through a different lens.
“If you think about those Darwinian urges of wealth, power, and fame — they are not terribly effective in today’s world for a millennial because they want connectivity and collaboration. They feel like they can get that without managing and leading, so maybe we have got the definition wrong,” Roberts said.
Women are saying: “We are not judging ourselves by those standards that you idiotic dinosaur like men impose”“
I think Kevin just jokingly called himself, “idiotic dinosaur like men” as he recognizes the old ways of things may be flawed and sensing what new women (and men) think may be different.
And I can’t say I love and agree with this more, ““If you think about those Darwinian urges of wealth, power, and fame — they are not terribly effective in today’s world for a millennial because they want connectivity and collaboration. They feel like they can get that without managing and leading, so maybe we have got the definition wrong,””
“Rather than holding ambitions to progress into the higher echelons of the c-suite, many women — and men — simply want to be happy and do great work, which management can often overlook, Roberts said.
He added: “So we are trying to impose our antiquated shit on them, and they are going: ‘Actually guys, you’re missing the point, you don’t understand: I’m way happier than you.’ Their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy. So they say: ‘We are not judging ourselves by those standards that you idiotic dinosaur like men judge yourself by’. 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. I can’t talk about sexual discrimination because we’ve never had that problem, thank goodness.”“
Kevin made some good points above.
“For its part, Saatchi does happen to have a lot of female leaders that act as role models to other women in the business. For example, Kate Stanners is the company’s global chief creative officer, while Andrea Diquez is the president of the company’s New York office.“
The above is important and self-explanatory. I also hope one or two women who Kevin had asked to take leadership positions but declined will come out to speak the truth. Any takers?
A few words by these women will be more powerful than a thousand words by self-appointed nobody defenders like myself or a million vicious words from the social media mob. Seriously, any takers?
Sometimes, although rarer than I hope, social media mob do listen when powerful truth emerge, usually after they had their fun of play social media judges and lynching someone to death or half death. But what the heck, other people’s reputation or livelihood are cheap and dispensable, why fact-check (which takes their precious time) instead of attacking first?!
“As you’d imagine, he believes leadership is an alchemy of science and art that can be learned. He also thinks people can establish themselves at the very beginning of their careers — not just when they reach the top.
Roberts said: “Leadership is not this sort of Mandela, Ghandi, Steve Jobslike iconic thing. I think leadership is about trying to make a difference in the world and trying to be the best you can be for yourself and making happy choices — that’s real leadership. Unfortunately, about 90% of the world give up real early and plod and seek to be average and not make waves.”“
Right on Kevin, “leadership is about trying to make a difference in the world and trying to be the best you can be for yourself and making happy choices — that’s real leadership”!
Note 1: For the record, this reporter has never tolerated the disrespect of women. In an 2007 article, this reporter even went as far as expressing contempt against an Alberta Court of Appeal judge when he over-stepped his boundary in R v Ewanchuk,  1 S.C.R. 330 is a leading Supreme Court of Canada case concerning the defence of consent to a charge of sexual assault. I have known to call the late judge as Judge John “bonnet and crinolines” McClung in honour of his disrespectful attitude against women.
1st August, 2016 update: So is English getting too hard to read for New York Times reporter Sydney Ember in “Publicis Ad Executive Sidelined by Gender Diversity Comments“? Allow me to quote from it with emphasis added,
“In his interview with Business Insider, Mr. Roberts said agencies did not understand how ***women*** thought about success. “Their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy,” he said. “So they say: ‘We are not judging ourselves by those standards that you idiotic dinosaur-like men judge yourself by.’”“
The one word ***women*** is a major error in the NYT reporting that is retraction and correction worthy because a man’s reputation is on the line. In this fun-filled mob run trial, lets pretend to be “fair” during the lynching process, shall we? Now, lets see what Lara actually wrote and quoted in her report.
“”Rather than holding ambitions to progress into the higher echelons of the c-suite, many women — and men — simply want to be happy and do great work, which management can often overlook, Roberts said.
He added: “So we are trying to impose our antiquated shit on them, and they are going: ‘Actually guys, you’re missing the point, you don’t understand: I’m way happier than you.’ Their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy. So they say: ‘We are not judging ourselves by those standards that you idiotic dinosaur like men judge yourself by’.“
Isn’t it rather convenient in this mob and media trial of Kevin, that his words of “many women — and men“, words explicitly about BOTH beeping sexes, become NYT’s awesome reporting of “Mr. Roberts said agencies did not understand how ***women*** thought about success“.
In the days of the good old Chinese Cultural Revolution, people were simply pushed off top of buildings and summarily executed without help of Facebook, Tweeter, and New York Times (which I will quote some more)!
“In an interview on Sunday, Ms. Gallop said that she was “impressed with how swiftly and decisively Publicis moved” but that Mr. Roberts’s comments were indicative of the broader issue.
“When the old world order feels under threat because there is a new world order emerging, I think white men feel insecure,” she said, “and that manifests itself in surprising ways, such as Kevin Roberts’s remarks.”“
Well, given “how swiftly and decisively Publicis moved“, makes one long for the good old days of Chinese Cultural Revolutionary red guards’ way of pushing people off buildings after a “public trial” in the town square.
Is the “old world order” really gone and “a new world order emerging“? Or is it just everyone and their cats become social media judges and Chinese Cultural Revolutionary village town squares are simply replaced by Twitter, Facebook, and newspapers?
BBC News recently posted “What was China’s Cultural Revolution?” perfectly timed for the new social media mob trial judges to learn from history to perfect their lynching skills!
In our new-ish social media age, if we are going to lynch people, why not lynch them in style and in a more effective manner? #epic #fail
1st August, 2016 (2:45pm MST) update: So looks like reporter Ms. Claire Zillman at Fortune doesn’t read English too well either after reading her report “Saatchi Chairman Is Disciplined After Saying Women Lack ‘Vertical Ambition’“. Here is a quote,
“He did admit that Saatchi has trouble promoting women to senior-level roles, which he said is largely due to women not wanting to manage people and a piece of the business.“
Quoting a key part of Kevin’s original statement in Lara’s report,
“”Rather than holding ambitions to progress into the higher echelons of the c-suite, many women — and men — simply want to be happy and do great work, which management can often overlook, Roberts said.“
1st August, 2016 (2:55pm MST) update: So finally, Grace Dent from Independent has a slightly more insightful report “Saatchi boss Kevin Roberts has been sent to the Shamed Man Gulag by perma-furious feminists” and let me quote (with emphasis added),
“I wonder if I’m the only woman feeling slightly uneasy at Roberts’ turbo-banishment?
Hoiking men from public life at a moment’s notice for being unable to give completely 100 per cent satisfactory answers on head-bangingly complex gender issues does not, I fear, help women’s road to equality. It makes us look like a sinister, peculiarly thin-skinned, laughably volatile Lidl-brand Stazi. […]
Foolhardily Roberts then skidded off-road into “Tim Hunt abandon-ye-career here” territory by saying that at Saatchi &Saatchi he’d met a number of talented women who “reach a certain point in their careers” and rejected the chance to become creative directors. “They are going ‘actually guys, you’re missing the point, you don’t understand: I’m way happier than you,’” he explained. “Their ambition is not a vertical ambition; it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy.”“
The problem actually is NOT with just women sending Roberts to his turbo-banishment (love this term, all things turbo is cool), it is the beeped up social media judges (both beeping women AND beeping men) gladly sending whoever beep that is NOT themselves to turbo-banishment! Lynching is epic fun in 140 characters and one “Like” and one “Angry” icon at a time!
Also, while Grace seems wiser, the words “higher echelons of the c-suite, many women — and men — simply want to be happy and do great work” in the original interview, in particular, the four words “many women — and men” appear to have magical power where the words “and men” were simply lost.
Now as a man, I feel like I’m risky my liberty in quoting Grace and be locked up and escorted to “Shamed Man Gulag #24601” for life. But lets do it.
“We do not know any more of Roberts’ thoughts as he was quickly escorted to “Shamed Man Gulag #231”, policed by a number of perma-furious turquoise-haired fourth-wave feminists. Each morning since Roberts has been tied to a rickety stool and forced to listen to angsty third studio album by Canadian songstress Alanis Morrisette, Jagged Little Pill, before an arduous afternoon of Elaine Showalter seminars and olive-branch meetings with yowling nerve-jangled women who read Roberts thoughts and can never hope to recover.”
I am a feminist for life start with my grandma, my mom, and a long list of women that I admire (including four female Canadian Supreme Court justices). At the end of the day, I think and thank Grace for making some good points in her Shamed Man Gulag report.
2nd August, 2016 (1:00pm MST) update: So the public lynching of Kevin continues. This time from Global CCO Kate Stanners. “Saatchi Global CCO Kate Stanners Says Diversity Still an Issue – Kevin Roberts’ Comments ‘Upset a Huge Amount of Employees’” Quoting this new article,
“Ms. Stanners spoke to BBC’s “Today” show – a radio program that sets the U.K. news agenda for the day – to give a different point of view on the diversity issue.
She said Monday on the “Today” show that there were “a huge amount of employees who have been upset in how they’ve interpreted Kevin’s words” and stressed, “I don’t believe in what he’s saying.”“
As I argue above, Kevin’s four words “many women — and men” appear to have magical power where the words “and men” were simply lost in the latest BBC’s “Today” show discussion.
[developing story, potentially more to come]
2nd August, 2016 (1:44pm MST) ****speculation and recommendation****: This part is NOT news but mere speculation. Given how Publicis has disavowed Kevin so far and Kevin has not publicly spoken, I will not be surprised if Publicis eventually gives Kevin a golden handshake and send him off into the sunset with an early retirement with a substantial package provided he sign a confidentiality agreement that would have prohibited him from ever writing or saying anything about the firm — anything — without their permission.
I don’t know Kevin but I imagine he has millions and millions from the years of hard work, the few extra millions Publicis can offer now does NOT worth the grief he will endure (inability to speak frankly about one’s former employer, etc) for the years to come.
Alice Schroeder, biographer of Warren Buffett, earned my profound respect when I read that she turned down “considerable amount of money, health care benefits” from her former employer Morgan Stanley rather than signing a “confidentiality agreement that would have prohibited“, yes, prohibited, her from “ever writing anything about the firm“! (note: Alice explained her predicament and thought process in this 2010 blog post, very indirectly.)
If my reading of Kevin’s original interview was correct, employees (women and men) care about their happiness way more than merely climbing the corporate ladder or making more money per year. So Kevin, please don’t sign that “confidentiality agreement“, and simply walk away from the few extra millions Publicis can offer you. The millions will be immaterial in the long scheme of things.
On our death beds, no one check our bank balances. The freedom to speak truth to power and what is in our minds are surely worth a few millions, right? Well, at least thats what I learn from your piece. Or I may be I mis-read you?
Aug 22, 2016 Update: I waited but the only thing I’ve seen is Kevin’s statement which I include here for the record.
“”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 offence, 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.
I have expressed my regret and apology to the companies for the furor my remarks and language stimulated, and I extend this to colleagues, staff and clients.
So that we can all move forward, I am bringing forward my May 1, 2017, retirement from the company, and will leave the Groupe on September 1, 2016.
There is a lot of learning to reflect on, 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.
I believe that new thinking, frameworks and measures are needed to make more rapid progress on diversity in all its forms, in all professions and occupations. Hopefully, the focus on this serious and complex issue will gather momentum.”
I can understand why Kevin has stayed quiet and gave no interview since his resignation. I still think, based on what he said, and the context, he was aiming at the bigger issue. Unfortunately, the internet mob/social media judges won. My worry is whoever replace Kevin will be one of the boring corporate-speak type that says a lot without saying anything. It has been a sad month.
Aug 31, 2016 update: “Life and leadership lessons from Kevin Roberts” Director
“I come from a working-class background. My parents left school when they were 14 and nobody I knew had been to grammar school let alone to tertiary education. I passed my 11-plus and got into Lancaster Royal Grammar School. Their motto was praesis ut prosis – lead in order to serve.
My parents were mean and resentful towards the world. My mother worked in a shop and my father was a security guard in a mental hospital. He had a terrible life: he worked 12 hours a day, six days a week. He’d come home every night at 7pm and take off his belt to hit me. I ran away from home seven times before I was 12.
My aunty, now 82, was terrific – a fantastic mentor and still the person I tell everything to first. She did all my homework with me. She worked like hell with me so I got through my exams.
I really was driven by an English teacher, Peter Sampson, who I am still friendly with. He was a terrific inspiration and the first gay person I’d ever met. When I was 14, he asked the class about our dreams. I said, ‘I want to be a millionaire before I’m 30’. He asked why. I said, ‘I’m poor now, I’ve not got my own bedroom, we can’t afford a school uniform, we don’t have Christmas. And if I had a lot of money I’d be able to help people.’ That still stands. I’m not just materialistic, it’s about having the capability to make a huge difference. […]
I read fiction with flawed male heroes. My two obsessions are Lee Child and Daniel Silva. I don’t read business books but I read history. And I binge-watch TV on my iPad.
I’m moving into the next stage of my life. When I leave Publicis Groupe, as well as continuing to teach at Cambridge and Lancaster, I’ll be running my own business Red Rose Consulting, working on leadership, marketing, branding and creativity. I’ll be working with people who I like in businesses that I love, in places close to where I live. It’s very exciting.
Kevin Roberts at the IoD Annual Convention 2016
Kevin Roberts will be speaking at the IoD’s Annual Convention on 27 September. For more information visit www.iod.com/annualconvention “