Why is Age-Shaming Considered Acceptable?
So, many of us have heard the term “fat-shaming” which basically means people (mostly women) are made to feel bad about their weight. It often happens online where trollers say horrible things while hiding behind their computer screens. Thankfully, over the last few years, this practice has encouraged consumers and businesses to take a stand and start advocating that women should be proud of their bodies regardless of the size. This is progress.
But what about “age-shaming”? I would argue that making people feel “less than” because they are older (especially women) is the one form of discrimination that no one seems to talk about. Let me give you an example. A female friend (we will call her Susan) who is in her fifties went for a job interview with a tech company. She had a long history of a successful career in technology sales and was overqualified for the position. However, she had noticed that once she hit fifty, there were fewer opportunities coming her way so she had resigned herself to the fact that she might have to take a more junior position. The hiring manager (we’ll call her Amy) was a woman in her thirties. Although Susan thought the interview went well, she was told that she was not a good fit for the position. In the hopes of gaining some insight, she followed up with Amy to see if she had any suggestions for her. Rather than constructive feedback about the interview, Amy told her that she might want to consider getting Botox as her mother had recently had it done, and it made a big difference. TRUE Story!
For many of you in your fifties or older, you might be shocked that someone had the nerve to say this, but you’re probably not shocked that someone thought it. In fact, women in general are judged more harshly as they age, and other women can be the biggest offenders. Look, it’s a privilege to age as the alternative is not a good one. So, why can’t we look at older women (and men) as the resources that they are rather than make them feel like they have something to apologize for simply because they have aged? And why do older people often get ignored or overlooked.
Take the advertising industry. Most advertising (except for pharmaceutical commercials) target a primarily younger audience. Women over the age of 50—including Baby Boomers—make up one-third of the US population and account for $3.2 trillion in annual consumer spending. That’s right 3.2 trillion! While marketers focus on Millennials and Generation X, who hold 30% of aggregate spending for the year, they’re missing out on the combined 52% of spending for buyers over the age of 50. These female buyers have multi-dimensional lives with many of them helping their children financially or supporting their aging parents. These women are making plenty of buying decisions for themselves and for others. And yet 77% of women over the age of 50 feel they are either ignored by marketers or that advertisers simply don’t get them.
Now, this brings me to my second point. Why aren’t businesses actively trying to recruit older women? We all know that organizations are now struggling to find employees and are having to take extreme measures to encourage professionals to come work for them. And yet most of them are ignoring an untapped and available resource. Most women in their 50s are still working or have gone back to work after raising children. Many are highly educated, experienced, and active professionals who have a lot to offer companies.
We have already established that many women feel that marketers are missing the boat in reaching them. That’s why brands should have members on their marketing or agency team that represent the individuals they are targeting. In other words, if your marketing team is made up of all people in their 20s and 30s, they are going to have a hard time effectively communicating to a woman in her 50s. In fact, agency staffers and recruiters generally agree that youth is frequently favored over experience. Advertising is obsessed with youth and the makeup of agencies is skewed young. “Writers and art directors are usually between 25 and 35,” says John Zweig, an internal consultant to WPP. “Anyone older has likely either made it to the executive floor, been pushed out altogether because of downsizing or they’ve gone off and opened a b&b. The preoccupation with youth in the advertising business affects us at a profound level.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 59 percent of employees in the ad industry are ages 25-44.
And it’s not just advertising. Another great example is technology. While the median age in the U.S. workforce is 42, it’s closer to 31 in the tech industry. As Mark Zuckerberg famously said, “Young people are just smarter”. Ironic, that he is now in his late 30’s. I wonder if he feels that he has gotten less intelligent as he has gotten older. Is the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, a moron because he is 57 years old? I rest my case.
Recently, I was a participant in a webinar on how to effectively brand DEI. One of the biggest misnomers is that discrimination is primarily about race and gender. It’s not. It’s about embracing the American culture as it stands today which means treating everyone equitably regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, and age. The fact is that our society is getting older, and successful brands will need to learn how to speak to women over 50. The first thing they can do is start treating aging as a gift rather than a curse.