Think about the people who make the buying decisions for their households. It’s extremely likely that the majority of them are women. And they’re probably more likely to be older than younger. Now think about agency creative departments that you know of – do those teams reflect the people who are likely most efficient to market to? Probably not.
Creative departments need the creative power of older women. So why aren’t they embracing that resource and putting it front and centre? For International Women’s Day 2022, LBB’s Alex Reeves asked some of the industry’s best suited to talk on this.
One was Sue Higgs, joint ECD at dentsuMB in the UK, who addresses the subject bluntly but brilliantly. “Our industry would be richer if we looked beyond people’s wrinkles and looked at what they can bring. Because who cares at the end of the day?” Well, quite.
“I find that it’s someone else’s problem, ageism,” she adds. As she told LBB last month, the stage in life Sue’s at now is a huge asset to her as a creative leader. “The great thing about being in your mid-life or wherever we are – the autumn, the summer – is that it’s quite liberating,” she said. “We’ve had our children, we’ve lost our parents, and you move up. You’re front-of-house and you’ve got nothing to lose. The worst thing that was going to happen to me has happened. I lost my parents. They’re gone. So after that, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? What? Somebody in advertising is going to be mean to me? … It’s quite liberating, I think, to find your strength, and your power, and your voice.”
And that liberated voice is exactly what creatives need to flourish. One thing Sue said she’s learnt from her experience is that: “As you get older you learn that people lose their jobs for a trillion reasons and none of them is actually speaking your mind. You’re more likely to lose your job from not speaking your mind than speaking your mind. There’s nothing more fulfilling to say to a young female than: ‘Just tell them. Just say it, your biggest weapon is your point of view. That’s why you’re here. Please use it.’
Besides, a recent study from the BBC
showed that people have two key creative times in their lives, one in their 20s and one in their 50s. It must be a huge oversight of the industry to only be tapping into one of those pools.
But the fact of the matter is that despite these tremendous powers, women in creative departments are not staying in the industry long enough for agencies to truly benefit from their experience and unique perspectives as they mature. “The impact of this is there are not enough women over 40 in roles within departments like creative,” says Anna Dalziel, founder of 40 Over Forty and SVP director of marketing communications for Momentum Worldwide. “There are a number of reasons for this, but I think culture really plays a huge role. Whether it is conscious or unconscious ageism, small and big actions every day in the office, over Teams or in social environments, are stopping the industry from retaining older talent.”
As Sue said, older women’s potential to offer different viewpoints, share lived experiences and contribute towards agencies' creative thinking and culture is invaluable. “Like any form of diversity, having varied teams working on business makes the work more relevant and more relatable,” says Anna. “After all, we represent brands who often influence culture and society. Now, more than ever it is important that people producing the work for these businesses also represent the culture and society they are creating creative ideas for.”
Ali Hanan, founder and chief executive of Creative Equals, underlines this point with a number. “I'll start with a killer stat: by 2030, one in six people will be over 65,” she says. “Who is marketing to them? Right now, no one.”
“So why aren't agencies waking up?” Clearly, she says, because most agencies employ so few, older women particularly at the creative table. “Who makes the work shapes the work, so having a handful for the entire sector at the creative table is a collective blindspot for the whole industry.”
The Advertising Association’s recent ‘All In’ survey showed only 4% respondents were 55-64 plus and the gender split is less than half (this is versus 17% of the UK’s working population). When it comes to creative directors who are aged 50 and above, Ali says: “I’m counting them on my fingers. That is, if they’re ‘out’ - or feel they can say their age without someone having to comment on whether they 'look it' - or not. I’m 53 and proud.”
More ‘killer facts’ from Ali: Women over 50 have been dubbed the ‘Super Consumers’ by Forbes, holding $15 trillion in spending power. Older women control 95% of their household purchasing decisions and 80% of luxury travel purchases for partners, parents and grown children. “We are intersectional: multi-ethnic, LBTQIA+, of many faiths and are more likely to be disabled at a rate of 20%,” she says. “Don’t call us ‘young at heart’ or ‘cougars’. We are not ‘grandmotherly’. We are who we are: we are not ‘active for our age’ as this implies the rest of us are sitting around or bed-bound. We have powerful minds, bodies and wallets. And opinions too.”
On the representation side of things, this is also so rarely reflected. “When we are portrayed, we’re rarely seen in the way we truly are: powerful, multi-faceted, trend-loving, fashion-forward and our voices are unheard, unseen and unrepresented,” says Ali. “We are healthy, wealthy and full of ambition. We are not just active, but brand activists. We are trying new brands at a rate of 82%. So, new brands. We are your buyers. Try us and we'll try you.”
As Sue told LBB last month, “there’s so much targeted at younger generations and they’re not the ones with the money and the buying power. They’re not the ones I think we need to work hard as an industry to talk to. “
“We need to start to have more open, uncomfortable conversations in the industry to unearth the scale of the challenge we are up against with ageism,” says Anna, adding that more agencies should be open about their numbers, ultimately making them more accountable. 40 Over Forty recently advised the Advertising Association’s ‘All In’ Action Plan group on ageism and launched ‘Shared Experiences’ – a reverse learning policy that enables experiences to be shared across age ranges, different job roles and background with the goal to foster a more inclusive and brave work culture, giving people the platform to be open and honest within agencies.
Ali points to more potential saviours in the form of industry programmes that can help agencies rectify this mistake. She nods to Jane Evans’ Uninvisibility Project and VisibleStart
, a training bootcamp run in collaboration with the Brixton Finishing School and WPP to retrain women over 45, in search of a career reboot, with digital skills. And Creative Equals’ ‘Creative Comeback’ returners programme plays a crucial role too. “We see the younger women are more quickly hired than their older peers,” she notes. Then there’s the Society of Very Senior Creatives, spearheaded by Mady Morris.
“Solving this problem is easy,” says Ali. “Hire older women. Give them an agency, power and, most importantly, a brief. If there was one job the sector had to do to #BreakTheBias this IWD 2022, this is it.”
Image: From bonprix's 'Boring Housewives' campaign.