Since I started in the public relations industry years ago, I’ve seen the role ageism has played. It worried me because I knew I wouldn’t be young forever.
People talk about respecting elders, wisdom, seniority, and so on in a way that makes you think age is a virtue. Logically, one would think that the older and more experienced an employee or professional is, the more valuable they are. However, in the PR industry and many other fields, that couldn’t be more wrong. The PR industry clearly continues to favor youth when it comes to employment opportunities.
It’s disheartening and even though age discrimination is illegal, a 2018 AARP survey found, “About 3 in 5 older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.” Many of these older workers disclosed that they “see age discrimination as a hurdle to finding a new job.”
According to AARP, “More than half of these older workers are prematurely pushed out of longtime jobs and 90 percent of them never earn as much again.”
I didn’t need AARP to tell me that. As a recruiter, I see it every day. While the AARP report was not targeted at PR pros, it’s no secret that the PR industry is ripe with ageism. I’ve heard hiring managers say middle-aged candidates “have too much experience” or combating middle-aged candidates with the notion that “we have a very vibrant culture.” Oh, you mean a young staff?
To put it simply, you may find yourself in hot water if you’re over 40 and out to pasture by the time you hit 50. Why? Companies worry about insurance, older employees’ technological competence or their potential refusal to accept a pay cut. Here’s the sad fact, if you’ve worked your way up to a high salary, there’s a younger pro waiting in the wings for less money.
What many companies fail to see is that older folks want to work and learn. It’s as important as ever once the kids are gone and there’s nothing left to do but fill a need to be useful. Nevertheless, our industry’s lifespan is persistently short.
Moreover, agencies routinely complain that they can’t find good talent. “Adults” that can string a sentence together, deal with clients, manage multiple accounts and are RELIABLE. They’re willing to hire someone with just six years of experience at a salary of $100K but won’t touch an older candidate who has ample experience under their belt. They think that they won’t accept a lower salary. Yet, in reality, many people are empty nesters who simply want to continue working and earning money. They’re more than willing to take a step-down in pay.
My recommendation for those of us on the dark side of 50? Be open to freelance or contract work. Organizations are more willing to hire consultants in their 50’s, but not employees. Prepare to be an independent PR pro. You may find that you love working in a smaller community or being your own boss. It could be the most fulfilling chapter of your career.
My recommendation to agencies/hiring managers? Bear in mind that discrimination and diversity are not limited to color or gender.