Ageism: the ‘forgotten issue’ of the industry diversity debate

Age discrimination has been branded the forgotten diversity issue of the industry but one that is real and impacting the level of knowledge and skill within agencies.

Christina Aventi, Warren Brown, Lisa Ramsey, Louise Genge and Ali Tilling at Mumbrella360

While debate rages around gender and race, the skew towards a younger workforce in advertising is often overlooked, delegates at Mumbrella360 were told.

A debate exploring the “youth-obsessed” industry concluded that having older members of staff brings experience, knowledge and confidence – traits that are often neglected.

BMF executive planning director Christina Aventi revealed she is referred to as “mama” at her agency – at the age of 43 – an indication of the way the over-40s are regarded in the industry.

“I love it, I love it, but there is something a little bit dismissive and I’m put into a box,” she said.

Aventi added that she is “mortified” at the way agencies say they want to employ “young and hungry people”.

“Back in the day I wouldn’t have thought twice about that but now I am mortified,” she said. “It’s saying if you’re old you’re not hungry.”

The experienced planner added that the term “over qualified” – often cited as a reason for not offering someone a job – is a euphemism, with “ageism disguised as flattery”.

Louise Genge, former marketing director at Bpay and, since Monday, marketing director at The Benevolent Society, said: “Over-40s are walking out of the industry before their time with knowledge and in-depth understanding, not only of the agency but the industry.”

But industry creative Warren Brown, while talking up the benefits of older members of staff and the experience they bring, said it is also incumbent on employees to maintain a positive outlook and not become “boring know-it-alls”.

Warren Brown: “As soon as you become this wise know-it-all you are pretty much sunk”

“There’s a certain amount of repetition [in the job] and that tends to leave older people in the industry to say ‘been there, done that, seen it all before’ and they become a bit of a boring know-it-all,” he said. “That really penalises them.

“There is nothing more exciting than being on the cusp of nearly screwing it up and there is great joy in being terrified. That’s what gets your adrenaline going.

“But as soon as you become this wise know-it-all you are pretty much sunk because everyone around you will be moving at a pace….and you’ll be a drag on the whole vibe, you get isolated and made redundant.”

Brown added that older workers have “cost implications” and are often replaced with “a bunch of juniors”.

Lisa Ramsey, managing director of brand consultancy Channel T said more senior members of staff are viewed with “suspicion” if they have not shown a desire to climb the corporate ladder to management positions.

She said they are sometimes regarded as being “not very good” at their job in they don’t progress when that is clearly not the case.

“We have to get better at allowing people to be good in the space they settle,” Ramsey said.


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