by Neil Boom
There’s rarely anything less compelling than a LinkedIn notification but for some reason I clicked on one recently and I’m glad I did.
I think the reason I clicked on it was because a number of my friends in PR had reacted to an article posted by a PR ‘veteran’ – sigh! – who had pointed out how few PR industry awards were aimed at the over 50s while many more were dedicated to ‘rising stars’ and ‘ones to watch’ under 30.
His post generated many hundreds of responses, rather than LinkedIn’s usual sprinkle, and there were a lot of different takes on his piece.
Naturally, a good proportion of comments recognised the essential truth of his post: the PR industry does have a problem with ageism. If you work for a typical agency, take a look around your office and count the grey heads. I’ll warrant there’s not that many. Fortunately, Paternoster is different, it has a much larger proportion of older to younger colleagues.
Sadly, more than a few older commenters said that they had, effectively, been put out to grass, their applications for jobs disappearing into black holes, never to been seen again.
Quite a few argued that by ditching, letting go or forcing older PRs out of the profession it was losing a lot of very valuable experience. There’s much to be said for this argument.
There’s less to be said for the argument which some made that despite being older, they felt as dynamic and energetic as ever. Bully for them, but I’m afraid that doesn’t apply to me, I feel every bit as old as I am.
This doesn’t mean that my professional skills have withered to nothing. I’m a faster, possibly better writer these days, certainly a lot less stiff in style. And I am probably more confident in my decision making and advice giving. Whether I’m better at both is up for grabs, I am not the one to judge.
But as former FT hack Lucy Kellaway pointed out when promoting her new book about swapping journalism for school teaching, as she got older she became less concerned with status and a lot less fearful about getting told off, both of which are powerful motivators for people to toe the corporate line.
Whether it’s politically correct to say so or not, I feel some tasks are much better left to younger colleagues, who will focus harder and care more about the outcomes, for the same reasons that Kellaway had identified. The fact is younger PRs have a compelling need to stay in their jobs because they are miles from the finishing tape and happy retirement, regardless of their need for status.
What I take issue with the most is that older PR professionals felt they needed to argue that they are still performing as well as they did when younger. To have a diverse and inclusive workplace means exactly that. It means accepting people as they really are, flaws and all, and not some Americanised Platonic ideal, in search of machine-like perfection.
The truth is most older colleagues retain the same faults and flaws throughout their careers. Some probably flaws become apparent with the passing of time, like ability with IT, which older colleagues are more than happy to admit to and which they probably sought to hide more when younger.
But for most people there was never a halcyon youth, and neither is there a point when they are officially ‘past it’. They were never perfect employees but that doesn’t justify restricting anyone’s right to a fair crack at the job market, especially for those of us who need to keep earning to pay bills into their sixties. And some of that experience gained over the years should be more highly prized for the value it adds.