Age: a prickly subject

The Age Fishbowl

Age. A prickly, awkward subject, especially for anyone working in the very youth-led marketing and advertising industries.

I was 31 when I started working as an advertising creative and I hid my age for years. But recently I realised that lying about my age was not good for me or for the industry. How can we value and utilise older employees if we don’t know they’re there? So, I ‘came out’ and fessed up to being over 50 with an article in Campaign.

As a result, I was invited to participate in The Marketing Society’s fishbowl discussion about age. The event took place in the sumptuous Century club. A club with a number. And this is all about numbers. From the tiny 5% of people in our industry who are still there at 50 plus. To the huge number of people leaving their date of birth off their CV’s just to get an interview.

Age is a little different from the other diversity issues, because everyone is affected by it. From millennials to pensioners we can all be labelled. But as Gemma so eloquently put it in her introduction – ‘labels are for jam jars’.

Tracey Barber opened the discussion by saying how important it is to give everyone the opportunity – young and old – to make their mark on the industry and the more diverse agencies are the more resilient they’ll be.

Tracey closed with the fact that 16% of women would have plastic surgery to keep their job. This is a terrifying thought but reflects the general fear of being perceived as out of date or too expensive once we reach a certain age.

Many people mentioned the importance of older employees as mentors and also as a reflection of society. Working out how to engage the older community and match product development.

One word came up again and again - value. Alexander Birtles pointed out that younger people were often underpaid so they felt unappreciated. In contrast Andre Warner and Rose Bentley said older people were perceived as too expensive, underestimating the value they added to a business.

So, what is the solution as we start to live longer and the retirement age is pushed further back?

Flexible working, fair pay and a true shift in perception; so, head-hunters, recruiters and employers hire and retain employees who are right for the job irrespective of age.

This piece was by Madeleine Morris, the founder of a group for senior creatives. If you're interested in joining her group, head here.