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  • Writer's pictureRichard Irvine


Updated: Apr 13, 2022

By Hilary Woods

Photograph: Kirsty Day

Congratulations are due to IPA agencies given the improvement we see in its annual census in terms of the growth of ethnic diversity (18.3% 2021 vs 15.3% in 2020) and the increase of women in senior positions (33.5 from 32.4). I am slightly confused, however, by the different reporting given by the Campaign School Report and the IPA re the gender pay gap, with the IPA reporting a marginal worsening of that particular situation and Campaign appearing to suggest an improvement.

However, it would seem that the current census does little to address one of the key issues within the industry: that of ageism. Indeed, the summary of the 2021 data by the IPA doesn’t touch this subject at all – because it is, as we know, the Achilles heel of the industry.

In the IPA survey that reported the 2020 data, it was pointed out that there were 22,188 employees within IPA agencies. That number has shrunk just marginally in this year’s report to 22,062. However, what the 2020 numbers also pointed out was that of that 22,000+ work force, a mere 187 were over 60 years old. Yes, you got it, fewer than 1% (0.84) of people working in IPA agencies were over 60 – even though these people are not, a) technically eligible for a state pension till at least 65, b) agencies are no longer legally allowed to retire people on the grounds of age.

And no, this is NOT representative of the working population in general with the ONS telling me that 73% of over 50’s are still in work and 12% of over 65s. I indexed these figures - as the planner I am - and came up (using the over 65 number as the ONS doesn’t report over 60’s) with an index for IPA agencies of 0.07 vs the general working population (ie 0.84/12.0 x 100). When did you last see an index like that in any of your data?

The 2020 data also points out that the average age of an employee in a media agency is 32 and 36.4 in non-media agencies. This isn’t just a tragedy for the people who would like to still be working at 60 in the communications industry, but it also means that agencies struggle to connect in any meaningful way with the Third Age cohort who, actually have all the money. (Third Agers have 80% of the country’s wealth in their pockets).

When will the IPA and indeed other organisations add ageism to their D&I agendas in a more meaningful way? The one agency doing outstanding work on their internal D&I would appear to be Mullen Lowe, with Ayesha Walawalkar boldly carrying a flag that writes age as well as gender and ethnicity into theirs.

But the real issue is less what happens in agencies and more the impact it has on the work put out into the world by their clients.

As a marketing person from a large well know grocery chain admitted to me only a couple of months ago, they recently commissioned a D&I report and, when he looked back at the data, he could see questions about age were asked, but those numbers didn’t get picked up in the main report or recommendations.

It would seem that age, in agencies, is still its Voldemort ie ‘He Who Shall Not Be Named’. And that our Third Agers need to get their rock and roll roots together and start a new revolution.

Hilary Woods is Head of Strategy and Insights at A3A Agency for the Third Age

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