I 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.