What many people who have lined up to applaud the demise of Kevin Roberts for his supposedly sexist remarks have overlooked is that he’s been suspended by Publicis Groupe for voicing an opinion.
Not for sexual harassment or discriminating against women but for saying that, in his opinion, the diversity debate is overdone and overlooks the “fact” (as he sees it) that many women choose not to pursue the very top jobs in advertising for their own reasons.
In part he seems to have been saying that Publicis is on top of this issue. This is surely a consequence of the sex discrimination suit filed against Publicis’ MSL PR agency in the US back in 2012. We noted this yesterday and WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell did too in his comments on the Roberts affair. So Roberts (below) was trying to say that everything in the Publicis garden is rosy – and much good it did him with his bosses even though CEO Maurice Levy said publicly, apropos l’affaire Martinez at JWT, that Gustavo Martinez’s behaviour was a one-off and not typical of the industry. He appears to have changed his mind – or Publicis Communications boss Arthur Sadoun has done for him.
‘Lovemarks’ author Roberts, being the show-off he is, actually said to Business Insider: “the fucking debate is all over” which is is a pretty crass way of putting it but it’s still an opinion, not a sexist act. Should you be suspended from your job because you voice an unpopular (with some people) opinion?
Diversity means a number of things, after all. Including the freedom to hold different and, perhaps, unpopular opinions. What we seem to have here is an industry that’s so scared of its ‘Mad Men’ shadow that only one opinion is allowed.
Was there any truth in what Roberts said? As far as the debate being “fucking over” it clearly isn’t. But it is true that the percentage of top jobs in adland held by women is slowly increasing, up to something like 30 per cent from virtually nowhere. Creative departments still seem to be the worst offenders. Certainly in the past they’ve been bizarrely macho and it’s hard to see quite why. Maybe some creatives feel permanently embattled; their output continually compromised by cautious clients and suits who just want to get the work, any work, out. Maybe this creates an aggressive environment that some women don’t want to be part of. But the same can be said of television (which women often dominate) and film, which they don’t.
Roberts, I suspect, sees the gender inequality problem solving itself as females earn better grades than their male peers at school and university and therefore begin to move up the career ladder faster – assuming they want to. Turn on the TV and you can clearly see this happening elsewhere in media land; most younger news presenters seem to be women. But are they “eye candy” chosen by sexist male executives? You can go round in circles..
Approve of him or not, Roberts’ long career seems to be over – all for voicing an opinion. That’s arguably more alarming than anything he said or implied.