Gender discrimination is a difficult topic—it’s often wrought with emotion, soapboxes and talking points, rather than discussed with facts and an open mind. It’s also quite subjective and rarely compares apples to apples. Nevertheless it’s a progressive’s playground and to demonstrate, a powerful advertising executive was put on leave when he told Business Insider gender discrimination doesn’t happen at his company, and that men, women, millennials and older generations, often want different things in their work and define satisfaction differently. It’s 2016, he should know any one of those grievances is enough to make the progressive, discrimination police, all hot and bothered.
What actually happened
In a recent interview with Business Insider, Kevin Roberts, Saatchi & Saatchi Chairman and head coach of the advertising agency’s parent company, the Publicis Groupe, told the magazine there really is no raging debate about gender discrimination within the advertising field and said the issue is “‘way worse’ in sectors like financial services, where there are "problems left, right, and center.’”
Roberts said he has observed female employees do not want to be in positions of power: “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.’”
Obliterated As soon as the piece ran in Business Insider, Publicis announced they were placing Roberts on leave because there is a “no-tolerance policy towards behavior or commentary counter to the spirit of Publicis Groupe and its celebration of difference as captured in the motto Viva la Difference!” The statement continued:
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. 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.
What the facts say
What’s so sad about the fact that Roberts was put on leave is none of what he said was wrong—half of it can be backed up with facts, the other seemed more anecdotal based on his professional experience—he just failed to be politically correct.
For example, Publicis Groupe has a 50-50 gender split and 65% of Saatchi & Saatchi’s staff are women, many in leadership roles–their worldwide creative chief officers and the President of the company’s New York office are women. Does that sound like the company has a gender discrimination problem? Of course, statistics don’t negate any issues–perhaps there have been some about which Roberts is unaware. But the facts back him up.
In the piece, Roberts pointed out people are wired different and often many types of people are satiated at work even if they are not in a leadership role.
“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."
The Independent Women’s Forum has found this work-life balance to be true statistically. Citing a PayScale study, they find much of the wage gap is due to different life choices and men and women finding fulfillment in different ways.
“Though both sexes command similar wages at the start of their careers, female wages tend to fall behind those of men over time. But this differential is less evidentiary of pay discrimination against women than it is a result of men and women fulfilling different career preferences and making different life choices. For example, an international study conducted in 2013 by the career networking site LinkedIn found that nearly two-thirds of professional women view “finding the right balance between work and personal life” as their definition of success in the workplace, while less than half prioritize “earning a high salary.”
It’s a shame that Roberts’ statements–based on fact and professional anecdotal experience–resulted in a truth-teller being put on leave. Nothing he said was controversial–if anything it was encouraging. Women have finally reached a point in this field at least, where they can work happily without discrimination, with work-life balance, and go home satiated with their jobs. Progressives should be applauding this, instead, Roberts was put on leave for failing to toe a company line he hadn’t even crossed.
This is where many liberal groups and their pet causes lose support; it’s one thing to support an issue that needs to be addressed: Like the wage gap, gender or sexual discrimination, paid family leave or the like. It’s another thing to push that so far that when things do swing around to a place of balance–nothing will ever be perfect–it’s ignored altogether. If a company boasts 65% female employees and everyone seems happy, until proven otherwise, let them be joyous in that accomplishment and let other companies follow that lead. To punish the truth-teller for failing to spout liberal myths is disingenuous, intellectually dishonest, and does nothing to help other fields stop gender discrimination.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this piece stated that the company, Publicis, was based in the UK rather than France. CR apologizes for the mistake.