Why ageism seems to be an acceptable discrimination…
We all rightly talk about the next generation of event profs and we all discuss the talent pipeline – and by that we mean the people coming into the industry at the beginning of their careers, as graduates or apprentices. But why do we only see a one-way flow? Why can’t we consider the talent pipeline coming the other way? Of more mature people looking for a career change or trying to get back in?
A hundred thousand people have left our industry and companies are finding it hard to recruit. EDI (equality, diversity & inclusion) is a very important consideration now and I’m sure many agencies are proud of their EDI initiatives. But these same agencies are often the very ones who are reticent to employ the over 50s. I hear it often, in code: “oh, that candidate is too experienced,” “they’d get bored after a while” or even very bluntly “they are too old.”
It’s why I still count myself incredibly lucky I get to choose who I work for, because if I hear this, I’m off.
Like many of the ‘isms’ it’s all about language: “we are a vibrant, fast moving, dynamic team” can be translated to “we are young” and this is agism.
EDI also means being inclusive about age. But no-one talks about it, there is no scholarship or initiative to encourage the over 50s into our industry. An employer would never say that they are looking for a white person, or a woman for a role but it’s very common for agencies to specify the age bracket of the new recruit that they need.
If you check out a company’s ‘meet the team’ page, all of the people that own the business are usually older, whilst the people that work in the business are younger. So, an older person looking at this business may be put off applying.
We have to stop this. It’s not even unconscious bias, it’s blatant bias. Agism is not ok, and I think we are missing a trick.
For our industry to build back up again, we need people. And we need senior people who can hit the ground running. We’re crying out for recruits that can just slot into work, who can just come in, pick it up and go. So why aren’t we casting the net wider to include the over 50s? We talk about the benefits of new recruits learning peer to peer, but now that everyone’s working more remotely the time that employees get face to face with their peers needs to be really, really concentrated and very well used. We’ve got a whole raft of senior people who still want to be in our industry. Who’ve had the training, lived the experience and yes, got the t-shirt, and they are sat there waiting to be utilised and who could help train the younger generation. It breaks my heart when I hear really great candidates say “I’ve been in this industry 30 years and no-one wants to hire me.”
So my question to agencies is: “If you’re looking for a senior hire, and you’re worried about someone being ‘too old’, why is that?” Why do you think someone that’s over 50 isn’t going to work for you? Do you think they are going to retire? Maybe they will one day, but most people are working longer anyway so they could have 10 or 20 years left of their career. Is your 25-year-old project co-ordinator going to stay with you that long? Are you threatened by their experience? Or can you step back and appreciate what they will bring to your agency.
If you are thinking “why do I need this demographic?” my question would be “Why don’t you need them?”
I realise that it is very hard to be fully inclusive. But the progressive agencies, the ones preparing for the future recognise that we are no longer talking about a workforce we’re talking about people. Ignore the age of the candidate and instead look at what they have done and the experience and skillset they would bring to your organisation. How can they make your life easier? How do they add value to your business? And what could they teach you and your team?
Personally, I feel we also need to ditch the age-related awards we have in our industry. Why not just have best newcomer awards, or best sales results and ones linked to performance that are inclusive for every age? You could have a 50+ year old rising star if they were new to the sector !
It was Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. We have a real chance now to change the way we regard age and to make our industry truly inclusive. The thing that hurts is that ageism exists, just like sexism still does, just like racism still does. And it is wrong.
The question is, what are we going to do about it?