“Look 20 years younger, in 2 days, with this miraculous mix of retinol, vitamin C and CoQ10!’ “Recapture your vibrant youthful self with a new hair colour kit—you are more than worth it!”
Women the world over are inundated with tips from the beauty industry on how to stay younger for longer, but who champions the cause of mature women confronted by the workplace invisibility and the locked doors that often accompany the onset of crow’s feet, wrinkles, and the odd age spot? How can younger women thrive in their careers when their youth and marital status are automatic disadvantages?
125 women—leaders and emerging leaders—in the private sector, academia, and the civil service gathered on Tuesday, October 25, 2022, to seek answers to these questions and to gain perspectives on challenging prevalent attitudes toward age and the productivity of women, at the fall session of YWCA Halifax’s Women’s Leadership Collaborative (WLC), sponsored by NATIONAL.
Entitled Ages and Stages: Tackling Ageism in the Workplace, the networking event featured a panel discussion with Cathy Bennett, Founding and Co-managing Partner, Sandpiper; Andrea Forbes-Hurley Managing Partner, KBRS, and Nadine Bernard, President and CEO of Indigevisor.
Fielding questions from moderator and Senior Vice-President, Corporate and Public Affairs at NATIONAL, Kristan Hines, the panelists in short order shared their personal experience with ageism at various stages of their careers. Their stories were astonishing—but relatable—from having to intervene when an otherwise qualified senior citizen was weeded out of the hiring pool, to being passed over for a promotion for not being aggressive, and standing on the sidelines while a roomful of businessmen instinctively looked to a junior male colleague for leadership.
Not everyone in the audience had witnessed the same scenarios, but the sea of nodding heads and murmurs of agreement proved that they had all been there and they understood the intersection of the different barriers women, young and old, face in the workplace.
For Andrea Forbes-Hurley, Managing Partner at KBRS, that was a sign that organizations are still in the dark about the effect of ageism in the workplace. “Organizations lack a diversity of thought when the workforce is not multi-generational, gender balanced, and representative of changing demographics. There is a real risk of reduced engagement by older, more experienced women with valuable perspectives and experience,” she noted.
Cathy Bennett, Founding and Co-managing Partner at Sandpiper, has, however, noticed that the wind is blowing in a different direction, a welcome change from the status quo she had to challenge during her years in office in Newfoundland and Labrador. “As more women reach the peak of their careers and open doors for other women to do the same, with the support of male allies, there has been an influx of women in positions of authority and power, providing representation and showing others what is possible. Are we there yet? No, but we are no longer at the foot of the mountain, looking up, and the trend is only going to continue,” she observed.
Cathy’s observation was echoed by Nadine Bernard, the President and CEO of Indigevisor. A Mi’kmaw woman from Eskasoni First Nation, and a third generation residential school survivor, she’s seen Indigenous women stepping up in their communities to take on more positions of leadership. “I cannot wait for the day when this is replicated across Mi’kmaq communities and women are chosen for roles that men have traditionally occupied. As they grew up, I encouraged my daughters to have confidence in their abilities, to not to be afraid of challenging their future. I know my negative experience can help build positive ones for them and I promised them that I will be the fire that lights their ambition,” she explained.
The story of Lisa LaFlamme’s unexpected exit from CTV National News in August is no longer making the rounds, and Wendy’s temporarily grey-haired icon is a redhead once again; but as the Women’s Leadership Collaborative panelists underscored this fall, ageism in the workplace cannot be tackled by viral PR stunts. It will require deliberate, concerted effort and a corporate culture that cannot be dreamed into existence. NATIONAL’s vantage point on such important conversations, along with partners like the YWCA, Sandpiper, and others, provides a unique opportunity to influence the evolution of more equitable, diverse communities where different voices and shades of opinion are not only acknowledged but valued.
——— Tosin Akin-Ogundeji is a former Coordinator at NATIONAL Public Relations