Changing Perspectives - Ageism doesn’t look like what we think it should

29 August 2023
Nisha Rajamani.

The MFA DE&I Council would like to see an industry where everyone can thrive, feel heard, supported, and safe to do their best work. Let’s meet the Changers who are sharing their own lived experiencesto inspire us all to change for the better.

When you Google ‘ageism in Australia’, page after page of news reports of discrimination faced by older Australians will pop up on your screen. Among the headlines on the day I Googled, was this: “Does Australia have a problem with ageism?”

The universal consensus is that we do have a problem with ageism. And that’s despite the best efforts of various government bodies attempting to tackle the issue – including a report from the Human Rights Commission on age discrimination in 2019, a Royal Commission into ageism in healthcare in 2020, a government investigation into discrimination in job ads in 2021, and an Age Discrimination Laws review by the Human Rights commission in 2022, for employment policy change.

In our own industry, hiring practices have seen positive reform over the past five years, with moves towards removing bias-inducing information from resumes and ensuring we cannot favour or discriminate against applicants based on age or other demographic factors.  

So, we could be forgiven for thinking that sufficient progress is being made against ageism. But that presumes a lens of ageism only against older generations.

Ageism cuts both ways
Over my career, I have found camaraderie with fellow media colleagues over casual comments on how other generations operate. I am now aware of the subtle shades of ageism we are all guilty of, and it doesn’t always look like discrimination against grey.

When we talk about juniors in the industry as ‘this generation’ or ‘these kids’ (insert eyeroll), and jest about how they apparently “check” work without printing media plans, or don’t work the hours we used to, we’re passing judgement on younger generations and all they ways in which they are different from us.

With those seemingly harmless comments, we’re exposing our flawed expectations that those in our teams need to function the way we did to be effective.

This subtle discrimination also lives in conversations where we comment on someone ‘looking young’ for an agency lead role or when we praise their level of ‘maturity for their age’.

This is a type of ageism that seems to fly under the radar of the DE&I hall monitors, but it’s very much present.

I’ve learned from those younger than me, and you can too
However, over the past four years I have had the opportunity to work in some of the most diverse teams of my career – experiencing diversity of gender, culture and of course, age. As industry ways of working have evolved through significant societal changes – impacts of Covid-19, the rise of flexible working, the prioritisation of self-care, the spotlight on mental health and wellbeing and overall increased traction across all diversity and inclusion initiatives – I have seen age-diverse teams rise to support each other, create new ways of working and connecting.  

And I have been humbled by the skill, work ethic and commitment shown by generations younger than mine.  

As I meet and work with more of our industry’s associates, executives, and managers, I continue to learn from the future generation – how to be prouder of our work, how to say no to unrealistic requests, to prioritise time for self, be self-confident and ask for what we want. Some of these traits are not natural to those of us who entered the workforce at a time when gender inequity, casual racism and poorly balanced work conditions were the norm. 

Today, I continue to learn from my team and their cohort on new ways to develop and progress our industry and make changes for good.  

Whether you’re new to media or a veteran, I’d encourage us all to actively look for – and eliminate – these micro-ageist attitudes, to facilitate real inclusion around us.

And for the record, the younger generation do work just as hard as the rest, but perhaps also a little smarter too.

Nisha Rajamani is Client Partner at Carat Australia

To broaden your understanding of DE&I, complete the SBS Core Inclusion course – Australia’s leading online DE&I training course – available for free to MFA member employees. Access ends December 2023.

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