Interviews

“What are you going to do about the generation you have lost?”

Jane Evans is opening the door for midlife women, teaming up with WPP and Brixton Finishing School to bring older women back into the industry.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

Share


Midlife women buy 47% of everything. Two and a half times more products and services than anyone else. Yet they are invisible in the advertising industry. The data on women over 50 in advertising is so derisory it doesn’t actually exist. 

It's a chasm that Jane Evans, founder of Uninvisibility the agency, has ripped wide open with her trademark energy, commitment and honesty. An energy underlined by the fact that in the midst of lockdown she has successfully written a book, launched an agency, produced groundbreaking creative work and launched a new training programme to support women in their midlife back into the industry. 

Uninvisibility the agency has teamed up with the Brixton Finishing School to train women in digital media skills and help them back into the workplace. Backed by WPP the Visible Start program will see around 20 women ready for roles  in their agencies by the end of the year. The program is being led by WPP’s CEO Mark Read and Nancy Lengthorn, Global Chief Inclusion and Culture Officer at MediaCom.

Evans explained: “There is an epidemic of joblessness for women over 50, and almost half of women in this age bracket have no retirement savings at all. If we don’t act now, half a generation will retire in poverty.”

None of the women we have spoken to like the idea that 50% of women of our generation are going to retire in poverty. We fought hard for things like paid maternity leave and sexual harassment legislation yet we didn’t have them ourselves. We now have a third of the pension savings of men. And 48% of us have no savings at all. We’re supposed to work till 70 but no one will employ us past 50. No one.

Jane Evans, founder of Uninvisibility

From cancel culture to call me up culture

“A reboot of the world is giving people a real opportunity to see where they have gone wrong in the past,” explains Evans. Pointing to the disproportionate impact of the Coronavirus crisis on women, she notes that post-menopausal women have more energy and brain space to commit to creative pursuits than ever. In short, the women missing from the advertising industry, the women not represented in the work, are the answer to so many of the ever-mounting problems the industry is facing today.

These are women coming into their prime; both creatively and within their activism. Women who have the confidence to call out the closed-thinking and bias which has led to such a dearth of older women in the creative industries in the first place. If ageism is the advertising industry’s final taboo then Evans has no qualms in addressing it directly.

Notably, while commentators have long decried ‘cancel culture’ or call out culture; a state of play which perhaps means we spend more time tone-policing women than tackling misogyny, the origin story of the Visible Start programme underlines the positive impact that constructive criticism can bring.

When WPP CEO Mark Read’s comments on an earnings call on the average age of someone who works at WPP is less than 30, quipping: ‘they don’t hark back to the 1980s, luckily” his comments  sparked a backlash. But they also sparked something else; a creative spark in Evans. She quickly re-wrote her keynote for India’s biggest Marketing conference Zee Melt to directly address Read’s comments; with a rallying cry of the economic necessity and creative fire that comes with employing women over 50.

As she explained: “None of the women we have spoken to like the idea that 50% of women of our generation are going to retire in poverty. We fought hard for things like paid maternity leave and sexual harassment legislation yet we didn’t have them ourselves. We now have a third of the pension savings of men. And 48% of us have no savings at all. We’re supposed to work till 70 but no one will employ us past 50. No one.”

Her passionate call to action led to just that with WPP’s Read calling her up, a call which subsequently led to the opportunity to support Evans and the Brixton Finishing School to bring 20 women in their mid-life back into the industry. “We were the first generation of women in the workforce, and what we are asking is for the industry to give a diverse range of women a chance at a career in the industry,” she adds. She notes that currently the only jobs actively recruiting women over 45 are caring roles. 

It’s time to let us tell our own damn stories.

Jane Evans, founder of Uninvisibility

Finding solutions

“One of the things that annoys me most is simply attracting and not giving solutions. With the Uninvisibility project our attitude is don’t moan find a solution,” explains Evans. It’s a practical action-focused approach which Evens embodies in all her work. 

It’s an outlook which shifts the lens from the ‘we asked all the women’ mantra of the all-male management lineups which still dominate ‘disruptive’ new agency launches, to the real question: “Where did all the women go?” Evans points to the fact that pushed out of traditional agency structures many creative women launched their own cottage industries. Yet marketers often don’t know where to find them.  

With groundbreaking work that pre-dated digital these are not women who can simply be researched on Google. Add to the fact that women of this generation often did not get the credit for their work. (Indeed the lack of credit given to BBH’s Barbara Noakes for Levis’ iconic Launderette ad underlines that even today we miss the mark) and it's easy to see why agencies need the expertise of Uninvisibility the agency.

“We know ad agencies don’t have midlife women in their creative departments,” explains Evans. ``You've made it clear you don’t want to hire us. We also know how many briefs come in for our target market. We’ve been your age. You’ve never been ours. It’s time to let us tell our own damn stories,” she adds,

Among the first brands to become uninvisible is Staysure Insurance, with a social campaign brought to life with realistic images of midlife travellers.

Brad May, Staysure Chief Marketing Officer, explains: “Working with Uninvisibility has felt revolutionary for our social strategy. At every stage, they’ve met our brief with energy, enthusiasm and unrivalled expertise. As well as understanding and believing in our brand and our values, they’ve really challenged us to change our approach for the better. We’re now really excited to see our joint plans come to life over the next few months.”

Uninvisibility is working with ad agencies, as well as clients directly, to tell the stories of midlife women and connect brands to this powerful consumer demographic – women over 45. 

Jacquie Duckworth, founder at Uninvisibility added: “We are offering a service to agencies. We are not competing with them, rather we are representing an audience while working with agencies and brands to make agency for midlife women.”

What are you going to do about the generation you have lost? Find those pioneers, bring them back, give them space.

Jane Evans, founder of Uninvisibility

More than just a midlife marketing moment

When you consider over half of everything is bought by women over 50 with the non-existent figures of women over 50 in advertising it is clear that addressing the lack of, and lack of understanding of midlife women in marketing is more than a fleeting moment in time.

“We have got to stop being judged for how we look. We have had years of being told we are too fat,” says Evans.

At a time when the Coronavirus crisis has rolled back marginal gains of gender equality in the workplace, data from Creative Equals showing that 88% of young women feel like they have no role models in advertising. A lack of inspiration that should provide both pause for thought and the spark of action for inclusive leaders. 

Evans believes that now is the time for intergenerational inspiration in the workplace. “When we work with younger women they come away going ‘fuck they are amazing’ I want to be as alive, as enthusiastic and as passionate as that.” Yet all too often those role models are missing from the industry. “What are you going to do about the generation you have lost? Find those pioneers, bring them back, give them space.”

It’s a space which Evans has so authentically built with the Uninvisibility movement - which now reaches over 150 million people across the globe. It goes without saying more is to come. As Evans explains: “I haven’t finished yet, we are only just getting started.” Make space or get out of the way, because change is finally coming. 

calculator poster.jpg

Related Tags

Diversity Creativity Ageism