A Hidden Scandal: Agency Discrimination Against People Over 50?

By Patrick Coffee 

In a very, very bold experiment, we are going to post on a comment on someone else’s blog today.

You may have come across Digiday’s story yesterday arguing that — contrary to the words of certain professional thought leaders — the dearly departed Kevin Roberts had a point. From that post: “Depending on how it’s framed, one can actually make the case that the gender debate is, in fact, “over.'”

Shareen Pathak was not arguing that everything is equal and perfect and happy in agency land — only that the offenses underlying this debate are a little less obvious than they used to be. (We did love the line “And also there’s a new wave I think where men are feeling threatened by modern feminism and are starting to feel insecure.”)


Anyway, a comment on the story from “NJ” got our attention. It reads:

One of the key issues is that agencies discriminate against older women in management more than older men. I was “made redundant” aged 50 by JWT, as were almost all women I worked with over the years as they entered their 50s (and it still goes on, as almost nobody can afford to go up against WPP and similar powerhouses in court). Age discrimination is rife against both genders in UK agencies, but is rarely mentioned in any discussion of diversity, despite the ageing population and the fact that most of any brand’s buyers/users will NOT be young. But older women are particularly punished for not being young and beautiful any more.

We’ve heard about this practice before. For example, when we posted on Publicis restructuring its New York healthcare agencies back in March, we heard from several employees who told us that the oldest team members were the first to go. Oh, and remember when a certain Colorado agency made some top-level cuts last summer? We heard the same sort of thing then, too.

This sort of approach is hardly limited to the ad industry. For example, when The New York Times announced that it would be making cuts in order to maintain its financial viability back in 2014, departures included many of its most senior staffers like the one who covered the ad industry for 23 years.

The practice makes sense: Senior employees within all sorts of organizations often have higher salaries and may in theory be a bit less hungry than their younger colleagues when it comes to the Hustle. In the interest of efficiency, it would make sense to let them go, right?

Sure. But we’ve seen a whole hell of a lot of comments on this blog ranting about how hard it is to get good gigs as a 50-something within the agency world, and this doesn’t just apply to creative departments.

So let us know what it’s like. The anonymous tip box is on the right.