Suresh Ramaswamy
Jan 11, 2019

When embracing diversity and inclusion, what about age?

Misconceptions about seasoned workers are so ingrained, even they believe them. But there are good reasons for having experience on your teams.

When embracing diversity and inclusion, what about age?

It's often baffling to discover a seasoned, motivated, senior agency peer has moved on to 'pursue a passion', turned a 'consultant', or 'decided to spend more time with family'. Not always voluntarily.

Females in leadership roles, check. LGBTQ equal opportunity, check. Racial mix, check. Disabled friendly workplaces, check. Bean bags for the millennials, check. All welcome moves to embrace workplace diversity and inclusion. Besides fantastic catnip to PR.

But why is age still the 'stepchild' of diversity and inclusion moves at agencies?

Ironically, one misconception about age often stems from the very top. Even young Zuckerberg, who heads that big advertising platform, was quoted to have said, "young people are just smarter". The other miconception is that more senior agency folks are technology unsavvy and can’t be bothered.

Both these misconceptions are so ingrained, some seasoned folks even believe them. Both, of course, are half-truths.

I'd argue having seasoned individuals on agency teams is simply a great business practice. It's much needed for the challenges agencies are tackling. And it signals the willingness of the agency to be adaptive and reflective of market needs.

Whilst not exhaustive, below are a few reasons why.

They can be your brakemen (and women) to navigate change.

Way back in 44 BC, philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, author of On Old Age wrote "the presence of old men in the state is essential to its safety and well-being. True, their office is, for the most part, that of brakemen; but on a roadway never smooth, and passing over frequent declivities, this duty often demands more strength and skill than are required to light the fires and run the engine".

Technology, data, changing consumer expectations, talent, financial pressures: these are but a few everyday challenges agency CEOs and brands need to tackle for growth. Who better to have on counsel, than seasoned, motivated people to help agencies navigate change?

They reflect the world brands seek to engage profitably.

Fact is that lifespans are increasing across markets. Brands market to this world. Agencies could do well to mirror it in their resourcing.

Senior high-value dollars demand different everyday products, homes, cosmetics, cars, technology, adventure holidays. Even dating apps (yes, Tinder for seniors is legit). If the argument is that seniors can't understand or engage millennials without making them cringe, why'd it work in reverse?

They can infuse Silicon Valley's productivity secret.

Across successful Silicon Valley firms, so-called 10X engineers are prized assets. The secret to these 10X engineers’ productivity is twofold. First, they are capable of visualising the whole solution in their heads. Second, they have a distinguished track record of adapting to fast-changing computer languages, operating systems, and IT environments.

Our business is often about pattern recognition. They say "Genius, often, happens when a seasoned mind sees a problem with fresh eyes". The longer one has been around, the more patterns seen. A partnership nurtured between switched-on very senior and junior talent will easily increase your agency's productivity by many X. Often simply by getting it right the first time around and fast.

They can help build and nurture senior relationships.

Consulting firms such as Accenture, Deloitte, IBM, KPMG and McKinsey invested US$1.2 billion in agency acquisitions in 2017, a 134% increase on 2016.

Consulting firms may not have figured out the creative execution part of advertising for clients yet, but they already have established partnerships with senior marketers and CMOs. With data and rapport in place, it's a matter of time before they take a serious crack at creative services.

If agencies really want to ‘move up the value chain’, it's time seasoned individuals line up your frontline. Besides, that little black book they’ve spent years curating can become a valuable new business tool.

They help you reap what the industry has funded and honed.

Basics of business, marketing, finance, technology and craft can be learnt in classrooms. Real learning in our industry happens on the job.

We are also an industry where it is impossible to document a cookbook, for every new brief that lands on us. Most of our industry expertise resides in senior people’s heads. And when they check out, it goes out of the agency door. Why would you want to pass on this priceless advantage when it’s just about ripe to harvest?

For the seasoned agency folks, despair not. Instead, be the agents of change.

Like a few other professional fields, sport is very cruel to age. At 24, and his peak, Borg walked off a court kissing goodbye to the highest levels of competition. Tennis was so much the poorer. 

Sporting icons like Roger Federer, Michael Jordan, Sachin Tendulkar, Gianluigi Buffon, on the other hand, are an inspiration. They are proof that continuing to hone your craft, keeping fit, and moving with the times are the best antidotes to primarily age-led redundancy.

And if Sir Martin can restart at 73, why should anyone even consider being out out to pasture so soon? Instead, challenge yourself to become the champion for age, in diversity and inclusion drives at your agency.

Suresh Ramaswamy is regional digital lead for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa with Grey Group. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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