Oh, how I do feel a twinge of envy for the ‘happy’ women currently enjoying their ‘happy’ lives at the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi.
How lovely it must be to be motivated not by ‘vertical ambition’ but an intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy, in which one no doubt walks in circles chanting ‘Am I happy. Yes I’m happy’ before taking a little skip down to the coffee machine…..
Today, Kevin Roberts, an executive chairman at Saatchi’s has been suspended for making unfortunate comments surrounding the issue of female ambition.
As has been widely reported, he has said that he did not spend ‘any time‘ on the issue and the debate was ‘all over’. And when comparing the attitude of both sexes, he added ‘So we are trying to impose our antiquated s*** 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.’
He’s since been placed on leave, and the Publicis group has been forced to send out a letter to all staff re-affirming their policy on gender inclusion.
It speaks volumes that Roberts can look across his staff and see them as happy little girls choosing to waltz along in the sunshine, rather than understand the very real issues that might lie behind any lack of ambition that he sees.
Of course, when it comes to ambition, everyone is different. But it’s my fear that some of those women who tell Roberts they’re happy rather than ambitious might have just reached their own substraphere, where, anymore….anything else…….and well, they explode.
For so many, as never ending incoming demands and responsibilities mount, it often a safer, more sensible and pragmatic route to accept the status quo, put ambition on the backburner and not upset the very wobbly applecart.
Which is fine – for a while at least.
The issue is, what happens when the pressures ease again, and these women look across at the men who once were their contemporaries now riding high, whilst safe in the knowledge that their own ambitions (which after all they were encouraged to have growing up) were never properly realised, and they never did the things or had the opportunities they would like to have had?
Unused potential within us seems to have an uncanny way to make itself known, like a pressure cooker with its lid just about to pop off.
I see this in the village I grew up in, where there are plenty of 50 and 60 something women who actually were once part of talented teams at all sorts of exciting businesses, but eventually reached a point where they could no longer dare to aim any higher because the combination of children, career and commute was killing them, and eventually something had to give (and obviously, it can’t be the children).
They have told me themselves that they now feel they never did or achieved as much as they could.
The result of this realisation swings between regret, melancholy and depression, to giving untold energies to local projects such as the restoration of local museums, sitting on village committees, running art galleries and organising village fetes.
Of course there are some bonuses to this. For a start, this means there are plenty of local projects getting talent they could never afford.
But on a personal level, what does one do when left with a gaping void that needs to be plugged, and an only partly reassuring inner voice that tells them they did the right thing for the kids (who now disappear from home without a backward glance).
What is needed is not an acceptance of, or aim for, female ‘happiness’ and a pat on the head for the good good girls at big companies who get ‘just far enough’, but an understanding that many women are just as ambitious for men.
Indeed, we are bought up to aim high, to compete – and you only need to look at children playing to see there seems to be natural desire to ‘win’ and be declared the winner or the best.
So Mr Roberts, instead of basking in the apparent happiness of your female employees, you should be asking yourself, how can your company create an environment in which women can realise their ambitions (if that is what they want to do), at the same time as having a family?
I do believe things are improving in this regard, and both sexes now have more ability to work flexible hours, to set up our own companies, to make changes to our lives.
But yet again it comes back to the same old stuff about why all the admin/childcare/responsibility/looking after aging parents, falls first on women.
Even the most ‘modern’ and involved man really has little idea about the intricacies of most of the things he takes for granted around his life – that his children are at a school and seem to be wearing clothes.
Most women arrive at their desks having already done what to some would constitute a days work in terms of running their children, their house and looking after elderly relatives.
I would like to see Kevin Roberts try his hand at doing his job alongside all the many tasks that the women in his firm take on every day as a matter of course.
Saatchi’s, themselves being behind the promotion. messaging and positioning of so many global brands, could be leading the charge and change in this arena.
Roberts women are not judging themselves ‘by those standards that you idiotic dinosaur like men judge yourself by.’
No. Many women have to have a different barometer in place – one of being able to cope, doing the best for those they are responsible for and not giving oneself a heart attack.
But perhaps they would at least like the chance to experience the opportunity that the self-satisfied Mr Roberts takes for granted.