Kevin Roberts is gone: Here's what Publicis should do next

Changing the ratio isn't easy, but solutions start with data, says the CCO of The 3% Movement.

Well, we’ve come full circle…It’s been quite a year for the leaders in advertising. First, JWT Chairman/CEO, Gustavo Martinez, was slapped with a lawsuit alleging sexism and sexual harassment. WPP circled the wagons in response to the allegations arguing the claims are "frivolous." Then Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, and Maurice Levy, CEO of Publicis, got into a pissing match over whether gender bias actually exists in advertising. And now, Saatchi and Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts has been called to task for his tone deaf comments about gender diversity and women’s "circular" (subtext: limited) ambition. Publicis’s response? "You’re outta here."

Which begs the question, did Publicis go too far in forcing Roberts to quit? The simple answer is no. And the world is watching what they do next.

Look, it’s never cause for celebration when someone loses their job, but as Publicis said in response to Roberts’ comments: "It is leadership’s job to nurture the career aspirations and goals of all our talent." By rationalizing that the reason there aren’t more female leaders is because women are "happy" just doing good work, Roberts revealed he didn’t understand the reality for most women our industry. Publicis understands that as head of Saatchi and Saatchi, Roberts’ apparent unconscious bias sets the tone for every woman and man underneath him. They also understand, as they stated in response to his interview, "diversity and inclusion is a business imperative."

Why? Because study after study has shown diverse voices result in more innovative thinking which leads to more creativity which leads to more profitability. Now that’s real circular ambition.

And with over 80% of purchasing decisions made by women, clients are demanding that their agency’s creative team reflects their buyers. Brands want to work with agencies that have inclusive cultures. How do we know? They call The 3% Movement to ask who we’d recommend they invite to new business pitches.

Changing the ratio isn’t easy. Even Roberts himself is quoted as saying he, "just can’t get why" there aren’t more women in leadership. But solutions are there. It starts with data.

We’ve recently completed our Elephant on Madison Avenue survey in which we asked women in advertising to share their experiences. Over 500 told us their stories. Here’s a quick peek: Respondents told us gender bias and sexual harassment is still dismayingly pervasive.

We’ll be on the stage at Advertising Week on September 27th to reveal the results and compare them against the Elephant in the Valley survey, which showed that over 60% of women in tech personally experienced unwanted sexual advances and over 80% had experienced some form of gender bias. Is Roberts right that it’s worse in other industries? We’ll have side-by-side data to compare.

Awareness is one way to make change, and so is activation. Through our 3% Certified process, we are partnering with agencies to assess their programs, policies, and daily practices around gender friendliness. Many of the agencies we are working with know they aren’t ready to pass our rigorous assessment, but they want the data and analysis we provide. With our help they receive key benchmarks to establish baselines for areas of improvement and then we can partner with them to find actionable solutions to help them attract, retain, and promote women.

A final way to change the ratio is to have women and men stand shoulder to shoulder in the crusade for gender diversity. IPG Chairman Michael Roth knows this only too well. When he heard that we were offering a 5-hour "Manbassador" track at The 3% Conference this November, he stepped forward to have IPG serve as the presenting sponsor of the entire track. Any men in the ad world who are wondering what their role is in shaping a more gender-equal future for our industry, this is the time and place to find out.

Circling back to the lessons from the Roberts affair. As he shared in his letter of resignation, "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."

We agree.

It’s time to recognize this isn’t about feminism or equality or corporate social responsibility or even political correctness. This is about business. Smart companies know this and do what it takes to make it clear, very clear, that business as usual isn’t smart business anymore.

 --Lisen Stromberg is the Chief Operating Officer of The 3% Movement and the author of the forthcoming book, Work Pause Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood without Killing Your Career.


Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free