The tribe, age-less, is finding supporters – because diversity means diversity. Adland doesn’t get to pick and choose what it includes. And so far, age has not been included. It’s time it was.
Not because it’s right. Not because adland “has to”, but because it’s smart. Adland needs to. The people it needs to reach are diverse.
Sally Kissane, managing director, Ogilvy Sydney, has something to say about adland including age in diversity. Here it is:
I’m going to start with a disclaimer. In four days, I turn 50. 50!!!
Now, I know 50 is meant to be the new 40 but I’m not going to lie, it feels bloody scary. I mean I’m about turn half a century, come on!
Whether it be psychosomatic or real, I can feel my joints starting to ache, my patience shortening and my choice in shoes changing to a sensible heel. But it also signals a milestone for me within this industry. I have worked in advertising just under 30 years and the verve with which I entered this industry has not dissipated one iota but the questions around age have become more apparent.
So, when I was approached to write about what it means to be age-less, to say that this hit a raw nerve was an understatement. Instead, I write this with brutal honesty and a hint of trepidation hitting the next half century.
Tackling implicit bias
In a brilliant article on this exact topic by Alex Murrell, he cited an IPA Excellence paper, written by AMV BBDO’s strategy director, Olivia Stubbings, which shows that the over 50s represents just 6% of adland’s workforce. This is not only disappointing but bad for business. But why is this so?
Humans are lazy. We draw implicit associations between concepts at an unconscious level; Coke goes well with pizza, muscles infer athleticism and French people are romantics. And within the advertising industry there is an implicit bias that “youth” equals fresh thinking.
This unconscious bias is not only incorrect but it’s unhelpful to our clients and ourselves as an industry. Fresh thinking isn’t informed by age. It’s informed through life experience, exposure to different types of people and breadth of thinking and it’s cultivated by the individual. And it’s a lazy way to hide ageism.
So, when I’m looking for fresh thinking, I’m not looking for the youngest person in the room instead I’m looking for someone to challenge conventions whether that be from the grad or the seasoned professional.
A 61-year-old defying the stereotypes
Beyond binary conversations
Too often we engage in binary conversations – men versus women and young versus old. As Mark Twain once said, “too much of anything is bad” and this is advice we should heed. The conversation we need to have is one about diversity. Rather than over-correcting one way or the other, we need to strike a balance, one in which we acknowledge the energy the younger generations bring but also acknowledge the experience the “seasoned” bring to the table.
And experience can create short-cuts. There are almost no new problems, just old ones in a new guise. Those with a few years under their belts can apply mental shortcuts given their experience and most likely a few past failings. And that experience can be shared with a new generation, preventing failings from the past resurrecting in the future.
A 62-year-old demonstrating flexibility (yes, it’s a metaphor)
Creating a culture of inclusion
So how do we achieve greater inclusion in an industry obsessed with age?
Beyond creating a “50 over 50 award” (how great would that be?) it’s about creating a culture of inclusion. This starts with balanced representation in the office, a culture of respect amongst all employees and actively promoting sharing of knowledge e.g. Is this an old problem with a new coat of paint?
It’s been said that you can’t be what you can’t see and that’s true for diversity of age. If this industry doesn’t actively try to address ageism we are going to see fewer brilliant minds entering our hallways.
So, as I approach the big five oh I implore my peers to see age not as an expiration date but something which adds texture, diversity and the one thing we’ve been chasing on every brief, a point of difference.
Here’s to fifty more years of fresh thinking!
And here’s to more fresh thinking: