It seems like the one voice that’s been silenced in the gender diversity debate is that of Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts. Since his controversial interview with Business Insider UK, many people have shared their thoughts via social media, blog posts, articles and interviews. But not a peep from Roberts who ‘has been placed on leave’.
One wonders where the public relations executives at Saatchi were during Roberts’ interview.
Was no-one from the PR team in the room when the interview took place? If not, why not? If that is the case, presumably he was felt to be sufficiently experienced to manage his own media relations.
Surely senior executives had discussed and agreed a public relations strategy following the “class-action gender discrimination lawsuit” at the Publicis Groupe’s MSLGroup PR firm in New York in May this year? Did Kevin miss that meeting?
Anyway, I’m sure Saatchi’s top PR people have been busy since – although there’s no sign of any public comment on the UK website, there’s a brief corporate Publicis Groupe statement on the global site: http://saatchi.com/en-us/news/statement-robert-senior/. I’m guessing that the notable space in the Global Leadership Team line up was caused by removing Roberts’ photo.
Global Chief Creative Officer (CCO), Kate Stanners, has belatedly done a recovery interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. And Saatchi’s CEO, Arthur Sadoun has emailed Publicis employees putting distance between the group and “the way Kevin’s remarks were expressed“.
I imagine that Kevin is at his ‘sanctuary’ in Grasser in the English Lake District – as the last post on his personal blog revealed his love for the area.
Anyway, I’m not that fussed about the online “sh*tstorm” and reactive crisis comms. It all seems a bit predictable and probably another 7 day wonder. Kevin is unlikely to return to his 16th floor office window overlooking the Hudson River in New York but will move off down a new career path, after cashing in stock options, golden parachute cheques and no doubt some wound-licking with old muccas.
Perhaps they’ll be laughing about the irony of the content of his latest book – evident in this Forbes interview back in June: The Radical Optimist: Saatchi & Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts On How To Lead In A Crazy World.
What I’d really like to point out though is that there was a nugget of truth in Roberts’ views about women and leadership. It the reason why I believe there’s no place for women at the top of the edifice. Here’s the quote that interests me:
If you think about those Darwinian urges of wealth, power, and fame — they are not terribly effective in today’s world for a millennial because they want connectivity and collaboration. They feel like they can get that without managing and leading, so maybe we have got the definition wrong”.
I’m not talking about what millennials want, nor whether or not women lack ambition, just want to be happy, need asking twice before accepting promotion, or are quite prepared to let lawsuits get the attention of the big bad (predominantly) white boss boys – or any of the other arguments in the flurry of debate that has ensued in the past few days.
And, yes it is good to see giant advertisers like Unilever claim they are dropping sexist stereotypes from their campaigns (not sure if this applies to belittling men as hopeless which many ads do).
The Guardian’s editorial got close to my point at the end of its piece stating:
Yet Mr Roberts may have hit on one truth. His model of leadership is no longer very appealing. Women do not like it, and nor, increasingly, do men. Leadership as a kind of military command, the peak of a hierarchy, belongs to a pre-tech age. Modern companies are likely to be non-hierarchical and cooperative, and much more likely to be ones where everyone can flourish.
I don’t agree with the final sentence here that companies have changed. And within society we still seem to have accepted, without question, the 20th century model of organisational structures as pyramids, with career ladder metaphors for climbing to the top of an edifice – literally in the case of Roberts’ sky scraping office location.
What Rosenbaum called the ‘tournament model’ favours those who ‘win’ early in their careers who then gain recognition and rewards that escalate as a result of winning in job battles. This can be seen in Sarah Kliff’s excellent post: The truth about the gender wage gap.
Her main point is about how time is valued in organisations – and that’s particularly true of advertising and PR agencies which count, and charge, every hour.
So structurally organisations – and society’s attitudes – are predicated on a world that no longer reflects the experiences, and needs, of many individuals and organisations.
We don’t need people to work longer hours, we need them to work more productively in those hours. We don’t need people to fight their way to tops of edifices – we need to topple the phallic symbolism and with it the notion of career ladders and pyramids, where the majority become career losers.
Because ultimately, we don’t just need to smash glass ceilings and let women grab that view of the Hudson River. We need to redefine what we mean by a ‘top job’ – and realise that successful businesses don’t just need one man (or woman) spurring on the troops with rousing Henry V-style battle speeches.
We can already see that the people wanting to be at the pinnacle of organisations (or countries) are increasingly dysfunctional. Or they are already mega-rich (from privileged backgrounds or fortunes accumulated as the spoils of career tournament battles).
We don’t need organisations where the majority of employees have poor working conditions, insecure career futures and an ever widening pay gap between them and those up in the clouds.
Organisations are built on the talent and labour of more than those around the boardroom table. So let’s tear down the edifice and stop looking for our place at the top of a narrow ladder of success.
Or we can keep muttering about inequity, silencing the dinosaurs, and replace those privileged white guys with the same fantastic beasts who just look at bit more like the rest of us.
UPDATE: Since writing and publishing this post, it has been confirmed that as predicted above, Kevin Roberts has resigned: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36963686 – The Daily Telegraph features his personal statement: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/03/saatchi-boss-resigns-in-a-blaze-of-management-speak-amid-row-ove/
Image: The Art of the Brick by Nathan Sawaya. See: http://www.brickartist.com/