Kevin Roberts – Don’t Hate The Player, Hate The Game

So Publicis Groupe have suspended Saatchi’s chairman for claiming that the talented women who work in his agency reach a certain point in their careers when they actively turn down a promotion, as they “don’t want to manage (the) business and people, (they) want to keep doing the work.” Hmmm.

In the interview, he also spoke about how ‘millennials’ (gah) want careers based on creativity and collaboration, and how the old rules of hierarchy and promotion are wrong. In essence, he acknowledged that two major segments of his workforce don’t like the old, traditional ways of working. He goes on to say;

“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’ ”

It was actually quite refreshing to hear someone so senior say that. If only he had followed it up with how Saatchi plan to change those ‘idiotic dinosaur’ rules to create a new career path which is attractive to all these energized, talented, young people.

But no. Instead, Kevin slid his privileged, white male head back into the sand and said;

“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.”

And that’s why Publicis Groupe were right to suspend him.

It’s this blindness that Mark Ritson perfectly sums up in his recent piece – the ‘I don’t see what’s wrong with the status quo (as I’m part of it)’ scenario. Hey, there’s no women in this boardroom, but looks like they’re all happy out there, so no problem!

The only guy missing the point here is Kevin. The lack of women in senior roles across all industries is a well-documented problem. And improved diversity in the boardroom contributes directly to the bottom line. It’s extraordinary that he could be so ignorant of this.

The thing is, he was partly right. Generally speaking, women do value happiness at work more than men, but maybe it’s easier for some of us. Maternity leave can provide a fresh perspective on a career, and your work/life balance. (But so can redundancy. You don’t need to have a baby to take a bit of useful time out).

The female entrepreneurs group I belong to is full of successful career women who’ve left the corporate world because of the politics and the boardroom bullshit, not because they lacked ambition. The macho culture is rejected by women as it doesn’t make them happy. It’s an environment created by men, for men.

When Theresa May launched her campaign to become Prime Minister, she said something that really resonated with me – something that I would say I’ve noted to be one of the key differences between male and female employees in my long management career;

“I don’t gossip about people over lunch. I don’t go drinking in parliament’s bars. I don’t often wear my heart on my sleeve. I just get on with the job in front of me.”

Most women prefer to just get on with what they’re good at. They don’t waste time on self-promotion and schmoozing. Maybe we could learn a trick or two from the boys, but putting up with a culture we abhor, or playing a game we believe to be pointless, is just not how we want to spend our days.

The best outcome would be that Publicis Groupe used this furore as further evidence of the need for change, not just suspend the one guy who could learn an important lesson and make a real difference.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

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One Comment

  1. Fiona McAnena August 20, 2016 at 6:27 pm - Reply

    Good piece Sam. Totally on the money.

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