Ageism in the workplace is getting old

620-age-discrimination-infographicI had lunch with a 61-year-old colleague the other day. While he has a steady consulting gig at the moment, he aspires to be a CCO or VP of PR at a Fortune 500 corporation. But, he feels he doesn’t stand a chance.

‘What company would take a risk on me?’ he lamented. ‘When they see me, they don’t look at my long list of accomplishments. Nor do they see a bright, passionate, experienced guy who can still hit the ball out of the park. Instead, they figure out my age, and end up telling me I’m not a good fit,’ he sighed.

My colleague isn’t alone. I receive e-mail notes with resumes attached from 40-something’s, 50-something’s and, gasp, even some from 60-something’s. They’re all highly qualified and possess decades of experience. But, Corporate America AND most PR firms see them as simply too expensive and/or set in their ways.

According to the AARP, one in five American workers is now 50 years of age, or older (insert infographic below). Two-thirds have experienced age discrimination in the workplace. And more than half believe discrimination begins once one hits the big five-oh.

Ageism in the PR world is YET another unpleasant topic our industry trade media simply choose to overlook (along with abusive workplaces, bosses, clients who change agencies more frequently than their socks, etc.). So, I thought it was time an alleged thought leader spoke up (that would be moi).

I’m in a fortunate position as co-founder and CEO of Peppercomm, a 110-person, $19 million firm. Unless I wake up one day and decide my services are no longer needed, I have the option to work as long as I like.

And, I’m proud to say my firm most definitely DOES NOT practice age discrimination. In fact, our two most recent hires were a director of content strategy and a new creative director who, between them, possess years and years of award-winning experience.

In fact, our junior executives would tell you we have too many seniors at Peppercomm. But, we pride ourselves on providing the best, most strategic advice to clients. And, while there are most definitely exceptions to the rule, wisdom comes from experience. Period.

That’s not to say we won’t fast-track a gifted 26-year-old who’s doing everything right. And, it doesn’t stop us from firing a 40-something who is simply going through the motions (and, having come from a large agency, never learned to roll up his/her sleeves and do his/her own work).

We’re a meritocracy where age is discussed only when we’re celebrating birthdays or work anniversaries.

I do feel for my 50-something peers and don’t envy their search for meaningful employment. Too many CEOs, CFOs and human resource managers are being told to find cost-effective solutions to hiring needs (read: cheap, young talent).

At Peppercomm, age is nothing more than a number.

11 thoughts on “Ageism in the workplace is getting old

  1. Rep- my comment may not be applicable to peppercomm but it is relevant to many others firms. You yourself said pcom isn’t your average firm and workforce data supports my theory. My theory is simply an explanation of why this exists.

    In terms of selling med supplies, I haven’t done that in years. But I gave up on the communications industry when I saw that folks in similar industries could make 3-4x a year what pr folks made. Any good communications person who can “sell” a story and communicate a problem/solution would make a great sales person and some sales guys make 500k or more per year. Not sure many pr folks make that or ever will?

    • why do alot of you men only think in terms of money, sex and competition? You sound like sou less beings functioning through the filters of a constructed masculinity.You are like cyborgs. Disconnected from yourself.

  2. Spot on RepMan. As someone who started a firm fairly young, the aged 50+ employees and contractors we’ve employed, and employ today, have been an invaluable resource.

  3. Take a look at Peppercom’s org structure. Then, take two aspirin and call me in the morning, I-Man. We have lots of 40 and 50 somethings in our employe. In fact, our 20-somethings would tell you your dead wrong in your hypotheis. But, hey, maybe that’s why you’re selling medical supplies and not working in a communications firm anymore.

  4. rep-

    while I agree with your post I think you missed a major piece of this puzzle. of course “older” execs make up a smaller segment of the workforce- that is because in almost all companies, the staff is a pyramid with executives making up the smallest piece and junior/support staff making up the largest segment. I don’t think there are too many 50-somethings that would take an entry level job and so of course this issue exists. do a quick hiring search of any company and you will likely find many entry level jobs open but not many senior executive jobs open. so its not that companies wont hire the ageless ones, its that there aren’t nearly as many open positions as there are for the 20-something’s.

  5. Thanks, Peter. Sadly, it seems far too few people “get it” or will acknowledge it. Shame on PR Week, et al, for ignoring it entirely in their editorial coverage.

  6. Thank you for writing this, Steve. While I still feel eternal youth from within, I know much of the professional world doesn’t look beneath the surface. It’s refreshing that some people get it.