Words: Zoe Marden

Have you ever been told you’re too young to have an opinion or feel too old to be considered? The answer is likely to be yes. Campaign and MEC’s study on ageism in the advertising industry last year showed 79% of respondents agreeing that our industry comes across as ageist.

“ageism certainly isn’t exclusive”

Approaching my mid 40s, well over the average age of all IPA membership agencies at just under 34, I wanted to learn more about age diversity in the work place, so signed up for the recent Bloom event tackling the issue. I’ll be honest, I arrived at the event with a bias, expecting to find a room full of middle aged women.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Some of the shared experiences were shocking and they spanned all generations; can you believe that women remove engagement rings in interviews concerned about the assumptions that will be made?! The anonymous confessions board painted a grim picture of reality in our industry. From those uncertain of their future because they are either at the beginning of their careers and under supported, or older and fearful of redundancy, to those battling to hide the menopause or feeling undermined as they are told they don’t have the years of experience required to hold weight in a meeting.

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With so many fears spanning so many of our years, I can’t help but wonder when the ‘sweet spot’ happens. When are we that perfect age where we and those around us feel entirely comfortable with who we are? Did I blink and miss it?

“It’s a simple equation, happiness increases productivity”

During the debate, Stephanie Matthews, commercial audiences manager at ITV and head of marketing for Bloom stressed that “we’ve lost the love and respect for people… they will have different experiences and age, if you have to judge them, do it on their output”.

Output is affected by so many factors. Jonathan Durden, co-founder of PHD, urged us to ask our teams “what makes you happy?… does our young talent have the room to find this?”. Ali Hanon founder of Creative Equals, points out that “when people can turn up as themselves, productivity rises.” It’s a simple equation – happiness increases productivity.

There’s a pressure on young people to climb the ladder and put their hands up to volunteer for everything. Matthews described this as being “too much too soon”. Being yourself may not always seem to be enough, particularly when you are trying to escape the firmly pinned labels:

Generation Y (Millennials): those born between the 80s and early 90s, with the key characteristics of being unhappy, selfish, entitled and prone to jumping from job to job – Generation ‘Me, me, me’.

Generation Snowflake: a young person who is perceived to be too sensitive, easily offended and weak.

“the best version of you is who you were hired to be”

Figures show that young people are more likely to have experienced stress, anxiety, and depression in the last year, but rather than labelling, we should be getting to the root of this, offering support networks and relevant role models. Being the best version of you is who you were hired to be and we should be encouraging individuals to have the confidence to be authentic. But as Robyn Frost, journalist and creative at Poke, pointed out, there’s a fear from the “messy middle” of management, who don’t want to talk about the issues and are protecting their own career paths. She went on to say that there should be trust on both sides, many leaders pay lip-service to diversity without a course for action.

The flip side of this is that almost half of women don’t see themselves in the industry past the age of 50, perhaps a mental barrier to inclusivity of those further down the chain. Who wouldn’t want to protect their own position, right? The older generations have their own battles and demons to fight, but I know now that ageism certainly isn’t exclusive.

Age is an easy and lazy reason to give for rejection and it certainly shouldn’t form a barrier to having an opinion. Allow people to have their own rhythm and build trust and inclusion into culture.

Zoe Marden is performance operations director at Kinetic

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