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“Women Over 50 in advertising are as rare as Unicorn tears”

How tackling ageism can help solve advertising’s talent shortage.

Mary Langan, Nua Training

Founder & Director

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“The diversity drumbeat continues to sound loudly across the advertising and media industry and much progress has been made to change narratives & conquer biases, but these advances contrast starkly with the lack of progress on age. Age is an ‘ism’ that is still notoriously unaddressed.  Rarely talked about. Last on the list. The ‘Cinderella of D&I’ according to the IPA,”

Powerful words from Samantha Frankel, marketing & brand consultant, and founder of Bloom Mpower, a group within professional women’s network Bloom www.bloomnetwork.org dedicated to empowering midlife, to introduce an insightful panel at Bloom’s recent flagship event, Bloomfest 2021 putting the industry’s problem with age firmly on the agenda.

Yet Ageism is the one ‘ism that affects us all; we age.

Bloom brought together a vibrant panel of industry experts to explore this topic and identify the right steps for creating a cultural shift in our industry, raising a rallying cry to recognise the value of intergenerational diversity.

Too many talented women are either losing their roles or ultimately deciding to leave because they no longer feel represented, welcome, or heard

Mary Langan, Founder and Director of Nua Training

Look around any media agency, creative agency or media sales team and you will struggle to see many people over 45, and whilst it doesn’t affect women exclusively, it does affect them disproportionately.

Too many talented women are either losing their roles or ultimately deciding to leave because they no longer feel represented, welcome, or heard.

The experience of Jane Evans, author,  founder of Uninvisibility the agency and co-founder of a new programme for upskilling older women in digital, Visible Start,  is typical of how older women are often treated by the industry. She was an award-winning creative director who took two years out of the industry, and on returning found that in her early 50s, the industry didn’t want her, she was no longer needed, she was devastated.

Jane is not alone, according to research by The International Longevity Centre over 1 million people leave the workforce in the UK before they are ready to do so, at huge economic cost to the country.

Yet almost every day we read about ‘the great resignation and the huge shortage of talent being experienced in our industry. Yet this talent crunch is almost never linked to the huge drain of talent and experience from our industry. 

So why is this area of diversity lagging so far behind so many others?  Why is there still a narrative of ‘rising talent’, equating youth with progress and fresh thinking, and older age with being out of touch & expensive – a narrative that is affecting livelihoods.

Does the problem start with marketeers? According to Evans “Marketing 101 states that you advertise to the youth to gain brand loyalty. That was true in our mother’s time but totally wrong today. We’ll swap brands in a heartbeat!” This is despite the fact that the over 50’s is a growing audience who have the highest spending power in the UK according to data from the ILC, spending £319 billion a year (excluding housing costs), equivalent to roughly 54% of total household consumer spending.

Yet almost every day we read about ‘the great resignation and the huge shortage of talent being experienced in our industry. Yet this talent crunch is almost never linked to the huge drain of talent and experience from our industry

Mary Langan, Founder and Director of Nua Training

This year Channel 4’s Mirror on the Industry research revealed that only 29% of ads portrayed older people,  of these only 12% portrayed had an older person in a lead role. The research also showed that older women are portrayed in a very stereotypical way. For this reason, Channel 4 chose to focus on ‘ageism in advertising’ for their Diversity Award in 2021. According to Angus Mitchell, UK agency and client lead at Channel 4, “we see it as a really important topic for Channel 4 to address.”

Cindy Gallop, the founder of MakeLoveNotPorn, has a clear view of how best to deal with this disconnect. As she explains:  “When you have older people creating ads, producing ads, approving ads, you address the negative stereotyping of older people.”

Which is why it is so important that marketing, planning, creative and media teams reflect society. Yet, according to the most recent IPA census the average age of people in media agencies is 32 and in creative agencies 36.  As Jane Evans says “Women Over 50 in advertising are as rare as Unicorn tears”

Older means outdated

Crazy as it may seem, our industry doesn’t value life experience, there is a perception around older people’s ability to learn new skills. With the need for digital skills increasing, the perception is older people can’t possibly upskill.

According to Angus Mitchell this is “just lazy profiling, this whole concept that once you get to a certain age you stop learning, you are not inquisitive anymore is just not true.  What we need is the mix of experience and youthful optimism.”

Studies from the ILC show that having older people on a team lowers employment costs because they are less likely to leave, and so are the people they manage. They also add to productivity through enhanced knowledge sharing, group cohesion, high resilience, and greater customer connectivity.

Prior to the pandemic the IPA agreed a target for the level of representation of female talent at board level of 40% by 2020. Yet in 2020 the number of females in C-Suite positions actually fell to 32.4% from 34% the previous year.

The industry needs to value experienced female talent, it needs to urgently stop women from leaving the industry if it is ever going to reach its targets for gender equality.

Guest Author

Mary Langan, Nua Training

Founder & Director

About

Mary is the Founder and Director of Nua Training, a people development consultancy that works with leading UK media owners. Nua's focus is on developing individuals and teams to be at their very best. Prior to founding Nua, Mary worked in the media industry in sales and marketing roles.