The Gray Ceiling: Three Reasons to Hire People Over 50

A gray ceiling in advertising keeps qualified candidates over 50 out of the workplace. Not in the C suite - the reins of power are held almost exclusively by white men over 40. Plenty of famous male leaders work into their sixties and seventies. But outside of the C suite you don’t see many people over 50 at agencies.

Why? Scores of women have left advertising because of sexual harassment or a hostile work environment. But many people over 50 want to stay at work but find opportunities drying up. A number of older white male friends in the business have complained to me that they are being stereotyped; that in spite of their stellar work histories, companies make assumptions that they lack flexibility or an understanding of technology or won’t be a cultural fit in a workplace full of millennials. While I’m somewhat bemused at how shocked these men are that discrimination exists, they are right.  In spite of the job experience we have, we are often passed over for opportunities with the same vague explanation long used to justify discrimination based on race or gender or sexual identity: cultural fit.

As a qualified member of the over 50 crowd here are three reasons to hire older workers besides the obvious fact that we have more job experience:  

1.     Contrary to popular belief, many of us know a lot about technology. We might not be digital natives, but some of us were digital pioneers. We watched the disruption of email, e-commerce, social media, and all the other technologies that followed. Having a before-and-after viewpoint is valuable, because this time will soon be a “before”. We can show you how to surf the next change because we’ve ridden more waves than you have.

2.     We “get” millennials because we raised them. For those of us who have millennial children, we instinctively know how to work with them. Many millennials get along with their parents better than my generation did and don’t seem to have a problem working for older people because they are conditioned to comfortably co-exist with their parents in a collaborative exchange of ideas across generations. As the parents, we are the other half of that cross generational exchange.

3.     Older workers have a high level of emotional intelligence. If you’ve managed to stay in advertising this long, you not only know things about the craft, you understand how to let the small things slide, how to manage conflict and ride out changes.

Of course, there are older people who are set in their ways, eschew technological advances and are difficult to work with; but there are people in all age groups that have those characteristics, it’s not a function of age.

If you’re in your 30s or 40s and are uncomfortable working with people over 50, I have news for you: If you don’t die, you’re going to get older. Maybe if you aren’t around older people at work then you can pretend you’re somehow exempt, or imagine that the stock-option fairy will fly in and make you rich on your 50th birthday. But the reality is that in 10 or 20 years you may be in the exact same boat.

Hire someone over 50. Look at their resume, not when they graduated from college. Trust me, they will be loyal and work hard. They survived a recession and have lasted in an industry that’s legendary for chewing people up. If they are still standing, they have the drive, tenacity, and commitment that their former peers lacked. They can help your business and help your team. And they are part of and understand a demographic with a massive amount of buying power.

Do your future self a favor and pull down the gray ceiling now so when you get to 50 you will be judged on your merits and experience and not the year you were born.



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