Tag Archives: ageism in employment

Riding the diversity tsunami – why a diverse workforce make business sense.

It’s always nice to feel you’re on the side of the angels.

It felt pretty good to hear that we were at the beginnings of a “diversity tsunami” at yesterday’s launch of the CIPR‘s report into diversity in the PR industry. If this piece on the public’s response to the UK advertising landscape is to be believed it may even be true – after all, something’s got to change:

almost two-thirds of people in the UK feel the ad industry does not represent them, and almost two-fifths say advertising characters and messages fail to reflect British society as a whole…. one in six say they are prepared to avoid buying products from companies that fail to take diversity seriously.

It seems, that the public are ahead of the PR and marketing industries on this one.

The CIPR report is sobering reading, highlighting a slow rate of progress in closing the gender pay-gap, welcoming employees with disabilities and – my personal bugbear – focussing so much on the “young and dynamic” that it forgets the insight that experienced (and dynamic) older professionals offer.

Looking for a magic bullet

Many of the speakers yesterday repeated the mantra that “there is no magic bullet” for resolving the unconscious biases which dog recruitment – not just in PR but pretty much everywhere. But there were some great case studies showing how diversity helps business.  I liked the story of the owner of a small PR agency who grew her business by recruiting an ethnically diverse team – confessing with admirable honesty that it was mainly because of the financial support Creative Access offered her to do so. She soon found that her small business was out-competing larger agencies, winning international contracts because they had staff members who could – literally – speak their clients’ language.

My example – told here before – of the agency which couldn’t find a way to talk to an audience of over-50s fits that narrative exactly.  Putting it bluntly, if you don’t understand the UK’s ageing population and you don’t know how to talk to older people, you can’t sell them stuff (and like it or not, we’re the bit of the population that’s still got a disposable income…) Having a workforce that looks like the people it’s trying to communicate with – in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and the representation of people with disabilities – isn’t just a nice thing to do, it makes sound commercial sense.

When the audience takes the lead

There was agreement yesterday that the greatest chance for achieving change will come from pressure on companies from their supply chains; which is why that one in six who might change their purchasing behaviour if companies don’t take diversity seriously are so important.

Only two flies in the ointment of the Marketing Week report.  The first is this:

a third of marketers polled in separate research by Marketing Week … believe that a lack of multiculturalism in advertising has no impact on what people buy

As an industry we need to catch up with our customers.

The second is the welcome it gives to the John Lewis ad as an example of older people in advertising.  Readers will know how I feel about this Christmas campaign.  I much prefer the Aldi’s spoof where, instead of a set of binoculars, the man on the moon receives a companion, delivered by balloon to brighten his Christmas.  (The gender politics of describing her as a “special buy” might be slightly problematic, I suppose, but I choose to believe that she willingly strapped herself to the chair – and I wish them both a happy Christmas)

Because sometimes age beats youth…

There was a flurry of interest earlier this year in the CIPR survey which revealed that although PR is a largely female-dominated industry,  fewer women than men occupy really senior positions.  I’m getting interested in another nugget of information buried in the survey – the age profile of PRs with in-house roles compared to freelancers.

Apparently “by far the greatest percentage (50%) of in-house … members are aged between 25 and 34. Practitioners aged 45-60 significantly dominate the freelance sector, with 51% of freelancers within this age range.” 

That feels perfectly understandable.  PR is a discipline that suits freelancing brilliantly.  Armed with a laptop, a broadband connection and a mobile you can work when and where you want – a  boon for women juggling work and childcare.  I’m starting to think that there may be a more sinister element to this, though I could just be paranoid.

There have always been rumours that recruitment consultancies don’t take candidates in their 40s seriously.  My experience and that of friends and contemporaries certainly seems to  bear that out at the moment.  I apply for the occasional interim job to mix it up with the freelancing.  Rather than being proud of the 20+ years on my CV and the huge range of experience that I can offer an employer, I’m starting to wonder what I can cut so that I don’t end up on the she’s-older-than-God pile before I have  chance to talk to them.  Are there so many freelancers  over 40  because we can’t get anything more permanent?

Ironically, being 40+ should be an advantage these days.  As the population ages communicators need to reach a mature and media-savvy audience which won’t accept being patronised or pigeonholed.  I’m doing some work at the moment for a client who’s putting together a health campaign aimed at people over 55.  They have smart campaigning ideas, a track record in generating fantastic creative work and great technical expertise in delivery, but they’re planning a campaign that risks turning off a sizeable chunk of its target audience because they don’t understand it.

I fondly remember being  27, single and childless.   I had no possible idea what it might be like to be  middle-aged, coping with children, job and mortgage, occasionally waving at my similarly harassed husband as we pass on the stairs, one to make dinner, the other to pick up a child from cubs.   I certainly had no idea  how it might feel to face getting older.     Those are increasingly common experiences.  Understanding them should be a huge advantage.  One of my industry heroines, Jilly Forster , has been stressing this point for years.  I’m watching the progress of Forster’s AGEncy with interest –  and it already seems to be paying dividends for them.  Others please note!