The truly odd thing about ageism is how every single living creature on this planet is aging. We’re all aging right now, as we do each and every moment of our lives. Ultimately, this means our bias against aging people is discrimination against the self, and that ageism is a brutal form of self-hatred.
As we know, ageism is also bad for business. This new 45-minute documentary film, directed by Scott Haper, features people from the advertising and media industries, which have long histories of intolerance for people over 40, and workplace diversity in general.
Rick McGinnis–an extremely talented Toronto photographer whose work has appeared in dozens of high-profile publications—provides compelling testimony (starting at 4 minutes and 48 seconds).
I’m trying as hard as I can to get new work opportunities in a very very competitive field. I’ve been a photographer mostly and a journalist occasionally on and off for 35 years. I’ve worked for The New York Times, Village Voice. I’ve had photos in Vogue. I’m pretty much known as a portrait photographer. I take pictures of people and more to the point I take a lot of pictures of celebrities. I thought by now my experience would be important but clearly, it isn’t.
It’s really weird but I’ve noticed that a lot of art directors and photo editors and advertising people, they kind of want to hire somebody who looks like they could actually be in the photos that they want to see produced, and the person they want to see in those photos doesn’t look like me.
Most of the people hiring you are either younger than you or are your age, but they’re invested heavily in this idea that young people have this access to new ideas that old people don’t, because for some reason we’re set in our ways and are not willing to be bold and experimental. I disagree with that completely. My feeling has always been that you work and you work and you work until you can no longer work. Essentially, you know, you die with your tool in your hands. That’s the perfect creative career. And ageism is this enormous wall that sticks itself up in the middle of that and says, ‘Nope.’
May I ask how a person’s advanced skills and decades of proven experience get so easily discounted? Are there so many talented people in the world today that we can afford to waste the contributions of those over a certain age? Or, is the opposite true and there’s a shortage of people who are uniquely dedicated to their work, and thus capable of amazing things?
In the ad business and every business, talent matters. In the ad agency business, where I’ve been a worker and an owner, the ability to attract and retain talent is a critical difference-maker. In a purely logical world, owners and operators of agencies (and their clients) would do whatever it takes to keep the best people, not necessarily the youngest people. But people in business are not always logical. Business decisions are often emotional and sometimes irrational and discriminating against people who can help you make money is plain dumb.
An article like this can help to keep the issue in front of people, but awareness of ageism and all forms of discrimination is not lacking. The will to do something about it is. Shaming the perps does no good. Only punitive measures have sway over a perp, and the ad business has no regulators, and no certifying or credentialing organization. It’s the free market in its unpure state and when that’s the situation, all sorts of wrongs can and will be done.
Given the state of things, I do wonder how we hold the violators accountable and make them pay for their crimes and poor judgment. We could have an industry backlist that names the clients who refuse to pay their bills, the bosses who abuse their power, and so on. Glassdoor serves this function to some degree, but it has no teeth. No means of punishing the perps. We need a means of levying fines and punishing their purse. Without this authority, all we can do is call upon a hiring manager’s common sense and decency, and I think we know by now that does not move the needle in a significant way.