Tackling an age-old problem in communications

Industry leaders counsel on how to recognize, root out and reap the rewards of eliminating ageism in the workplace

L-R: Panelists Ellen Barry, Sarah Kok, and Patti Temple Rocks
L-R: Panelists Ellen Barry, Sarah Kok, and Patti Temple Rocks

CHICAGO: "You can’t claim to be a diverse and inclusive organization if you are not welcoming people of all ages," declared Patti Temple Rocks, senior partner at ICF Next, during "Ageism: Discrimination’s Final Frontier" at PRDecoded: Purpose Principles.

The ICF Next-sponsored session underscored that ageism is a real problem in the industry. The firm’s research has shown that even people in their 40s feel it, while those in their 20s and 30s recognize it and are clearly bothered by it.

A major contributor to the problem is the unwillingness parties still have about even discussing the issue.

Sarah Kok, global HR director, consumer solutions and Latin America, The Dow Chemical Company, cited legal concerns as a deterrent to conversation on management’s side. Meanwhile, Ellen Barry, global comms advisor at EMPB Strategies, explained that older employees fear having such dialogue because it could lead to new roles where their pay would actually decrease.

As Temple Rocks noted, ageism seeps into comms strategy as well, much to the detriment of brands’ bottom line. Companies often focus on their strategies for millennials and Gen Z. However, Baby Boomers still have the most spending power, so they need to be a key strategic target. And employees representative of that age group need to be part of the creative process to woo that demographic.

When asked what steps leadership can take to tackle ageism in the comms sector, Kok emphasized the importance of a serious assessment of recruiting practices to ensure candidates of all ages get equal consideration. And for those currently employed at the company, leaders must be open to giving development assignments to their older staffers.

Temple Rocks concluded the session by dismissing the notion that the rise of technology gives justification to weed out older employees and predominately accommodate "digital natives."

"Technology is about change management," she explained. "That is something older employees know all about." As such, she continued, younger and older employees should collaborate to ensure their companies are fully taking advantage of all tech and digital offerings. 

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