In a move that left many in the industry reeling and shaking their heads, Publicis Groupe has placed Saatchi & Saatchi Chairman and Publicis Groupe Head Coach Kevin Roberts on a temporary leave of absence due to his recent comments on gender balance.

This follows an interview that Roberts gave to Business Insider where he was asked to comment on issues of women in leadership roles. “Their ambition is not a vertical ambition,” Roberts said about women, particularly in Publicis Groupe. “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.”

This resulted in a statement from Publicis Groupe Chairman & CEO Maurice Lévy internally to all Publicis Groupe employees to reiterate the Groupe’s 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!’

“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,” the statement continued. “As a member of The Directoire, it will ultimately be the Publicis Groupe Supervisory Board’s duty to further evaluate his standing.

“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. Publicis Groupe works very hard to champion diversity and will continue to insist that each agency’s leadership be champions of both diversity and inclusion,” the statement concluded.

For his part, Robert Senior, worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi himself said that, “Kevin (Roberts) has given what are his personal views on the subject of gender diversity. However, those views are not mine, and nor are they the position of the agency. Saatchi & Saatchi is, and has always been, a meritocracy. We live and die by our people, our talent, and it makes no difference to us whether that talent is male or female. Indeed, I’m very proud to be able to say that 65 per cent of our staff are female, and it is to our great benefit that we have women in senior leadership roles across our business.”

“However, the issue of gender diversity is not in any way over for our industry,” Senior went on to say. “It is live, emotive and vital for the communications business that we continue to insist that the best people, whatever their gender, are able to achieve their potential. This is what we strive for at Saatchi & Saatchi, and is what we will continue to strive for alongside all of the best agencies in our industry.”

In an exclusive statement given to adobo magazine, Merlee Jayme, Chairmom and Chief Creative Officer of Dentsu JaymeSyfu and herself a former vice-president and Executive Creative Director at Ace Saatchi & Saatchi, had very strong words regarding Roberts’ comments. “It’s unbelievable how he thinks about women in this time and age!” Jayme notes. “From a fresh grad to a VP-ECD, I definitely did not lack ‘vertical ambition’ when I was at Saatchi. Maybe it’s about time he witnesses a woman take over his role and be awed at her inspiring leadership.”