The first time I was called Grandpa I was the creative head of a shitty 200-person agency down on Spring Street in New York. Either the worldwide chief creative officer or the CEO decided I wasn't cool enough, so they brought in from the LA office a thirty-something creative and made him co-head of the New York office with me.
Immediately, he set out to bury me.
Not by doing better work.
Better work is hard. So why bother.
He made sure it wasn't about better work.
His way of getting ahead was via character assassination. "George is old." "George is a traditional ad guy." "George isn't into skate culture, or gaming culture, or hip-hop culture."
One day in a meeting to my face, he called me "grandpa." This is fifteen years before I became a grandfather in real life.
Frankly, it was about five years before I ever even entertained the notion of me being seen as old.
As this blog bears out, I have enormous amounts of energy. While my hair has greyed at the sides, I'll pop out of a cab faster than anyone, run up the steps at full gallop, and I'm usually, when I worked in the office, the first one in and the last one out. And the one to handle the gnarliest of assignments and client snags. As Reggie Jackson once said, "It ain't bragging if you can do it."
Nevertheless, grandpa-ism worked its magic.
About six months after this person arrived, I was out on my not inconsiderable keister.
In short order, I got a better job at an agency that was then considered the hottest in New York, if not the entire country. But, because I was 'needy,' I accepted a job that was beneath my station in terms of scope.
Soon, I started hearing that agency's version of "grandpa." Essentially, it was said that I was just playing out the string. That I didn't want too much to do--just run my business and go home at a decent hour.
They got away with saying, essentially, "He's 52. To him it's just a job. He has no greater ambitions."
In each of the cases above, I should have clanged a set of cymbals and made a stink.
The same sort of etiology emerged at my last agency job. I was under the thumb of people less experienced, less hard-working and less knowledgeable than I. But it was assumed I accepted vassal-hood because I considered myself too old to keep pushing the rock up the hill. I was too old to have ambition.
In the Diversity Equity and Inclusion schema, ageism gets very little play.
When I and four other senior creatives were fired from Ogilvy, WPP CEO Mark Read said we "harkened back to the 80s." That was code for basically saying, "they're old."
If five people of color were let go and Read said, "they harken back to the deep south," he would have been excoriated in the press and would never have worked again in any industry.
However, calling old people old is perfectly acceptable. In fact when WPP runs a chart that shows that few than nine-percent of their employees are over 50 (25-percent of the population is) there are no consequences for that blatant discrimination. WPP publishes essentially the same progress-free pie-chart every annual report. With impunity.
I don't understand why prejudice of this sort, why prejudice so inculcated in the "culture" of so many organizations is endorsed by the management of those organizations, their shareholders and worst of all their clients, but it is.
You can treat people badly, ignore their human-ness, insult them to their face, pay them less than what they're worth and there are no consequences.
I'm happy to discuss this with any agency leader or holding company leader at any time.
(Your zoom or mine.)
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