The Lancashire-born executive chairman of advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi has been told to go on leave after suggesting women do not have “vertical ambition”.
Kevin Roberts said in an interview with Business Insider he did not believe the lack of women in senior roles “is a problem”, he did not spend “any time” on the issue and the debate was “all over”.
Maurice Levy, the CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi’s parent company Publicis Groupe, wrote to the agency’s staff stressing its position on inclusion.
A statement from the firm said: “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.
“Promoting gender equality starts at the top and the Groupe will not tolerate anyone speaking for our organisation who does not value the importance of inclusion.”
Mr Roberts, aged 66, was educated at Lancaster Royal Grammar School. He hosted the Be Inspired Business Awards at Blackpool Tower in 2014.
In the interview published on Friday, Mr Roberts said the industry was trying to impose “antiquated” standards on women.
He said: “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’.”
Mr Roberts said he had not known any problems with sexual discrimination.
Kate Stanners, global chief creative officer at Saatchi, told Radio 4’ she rejected the suggestion that women lacked ambition – saying Mr Roberts’s comments had upset a “huge” number of employees.
She said women “don’t bail out, and do want the top jobs”.
When pressed on his comments,she added: “Kevin is his own character and speaks in his own words.”