Ageism has been one of the least talked about workplace ‘isms’. Is the tide now turning in PR?

Women in PR identified that where age and gender intersect, women are losing out. Now we want to talk about it.

Five years ago, Campaign ran a piece by Nicola Kemp saying that: “Diversity may be at the top of the advertising agenda, but the issue of ageism has been conspicuous by its absence.”

In 2019, the Harvard Business Review 2019 reported: “There’s a lot of talk about gender bias, racial bias, and culture bias at work... But perhaps one of the biggest and most problematic types of bias we face is the bias of age… We asked around 10,000 companies, “Is age a competitive advantage or competitive disadvantage in your organization?”… Over two-thirds of the companies considered older age a competitive disadvantage.”

So, we know that broadly ageism in the workplace has been going undercover and that things haven’t improved much over the last few years - but do we know how ageism is fairing in the UK PR industry? And in particular how women, who often come off worse in times of duress, are doing as they get older?

Spotlight on PR

Currently within the PR industry, we don’t have clarity on the facts. The last PRCA Census (2020) found that the PR industry is predominantly made up of women (68%) and that the median age of employees is 38. So, it matters to our industry. Women in PR (WPR) set ourselves a goal to understand and place a spotlight on the issue of ageism encountered by women in the PR industry. This year we ran a survey to put data behind our belief that ageism in our industry is thriving.

The WPR 45 over 45 Campaign has just launched revealing that a third (34%) of the 218 women we spoke to have experienced ageism in the workplace. Over half (52%) of those under the age of 50 don’t see themselves working in the same part of the comms industry they currently work in when they reach 50 - and a fifth (19%) expect to leave the comms industry to work in another industry, rising to a quarter (26%) of those aged 18-34. Our initiative will see a list of the top 45 most inspiring women in PR over the age of 45 recognised early next year.

Time to talk ageism

‘WPR 45 over 45’ launched last month and the response has been warm - and worrying. Comments have flooded in from older and younger women: “I stepped away from consumer PR, it always felt like a young person’s game.”; “There’s a real need to remind the industry that life experience counts for something!”; “Such a fantastic initiative and so very, very much needed.”; “Bravo, and a topic that needs more airtime. The industry loses too many brilliant women.” and so on… and on…

WPR’s role is to champion equality and progress for senior PR women from all backgrounds and also to increase the number and diversity of women in leadership roles in comms. It’s our job right now to lead this march to help our female workforce through the entire journey of their career - and support them to reach their full potential. Nurturing and inspiring the next generation of women leaders is the spirit behind the WPR Mentoring Programme that has been matching senior industry talent with rising stars for seven years. We can’t do that if a woman’s career journey ends in her early 40s.

So, our ‘WPR 45 over 45’ list will be the first of its kind to feature the women who are inspiring the next generation of female leaders and shaping a brighter future for the sector.

Older women work

It pays to employ older women - indeed, PwC’s Golden Age Index has shown that embracing older people in the workforce can boost a country’s GDP by £2.7 trillion. And contrary to stereotypical views, according to the Milken Institute’s Centre for the Future of Aging and the Stanford Centre on Longevity, older employees have a strong work ethic, take fewer sick days and are better at resolving conflicts.

There is a clear benefit to businesses and the economy having an age diverse workforce and of engaging in age-positive hiring to achieve this.

Turning talk into action

Yes, budgets are challenging right now - but companies can take a flexible approach on how to retain senior talent. Encourage talk with open discussions. Consider the capacity to create freelance consultancy roles and internal mentoring and sponsorship schemes to match senior talent with junior, like we do at WPR. Put ageism into your ED&I Strategy. These are all places to start.

As one woman in PR on hearing about ‘WPR 45 over 45’ commented: “I applaud the women in the workplace who continue to survive and thrive, who shine and impress. After decades of hard work and amazing performances, after juggling their careers and family, they still inspire.”

Let’s inspire the next generation. Now’s the time to talk about age.

Written by Anna Geffert, president of Women in PR and MD of HERA Communication Strategies

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