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“No one has created a narrative for us, so let us create a narrative for ourselves.”
That was the challenge that Jane Evans put to the audience at our Borough venue last night (20th November). Jane is the founder of Uninvisibility, a project that campaigns to raise the profile of women over 50. It was born out of her own experience in the advertising industry. Taking a break after a long and highly successful creative career, she returned to find herself ignored simply because of her age. And she saw that she was not alone. “Women over 50 were disappearing from the industry. It’s like being pregnant when all you seem to see is other pregnant women. I suddenly began to notice other invisible women.”
Jane argued the injustice is all the worse as women are being sidelined at exactly the moment their career should be accelerating. Post-menopause and free of many of the personal and societal distractions and responsibilities of their younger counterparts, they can bring a renewed focus to their career. But older women offer much more, Jane explained to her Fora audience. “There is no shortcut to getting old and gaining wisdom. They can see and recognise patterns. Experience leads to intuition and these women can see it coming because they’ve seen it before.”
Older women have exactly the skills the workplace needs. “Anyone can learn hard skills,” Jane said. “It’s the soft skills that can’t be taught.” Women over 50 have learnt those skills through decades of life experience and can bring them to bear in their professional lives. “Anyone who can persuade a six-year-old to eat broccoli can persuade a client to do anything,” which was a sentiment that resonated with the whole audience. And yet the response of industry is still too often negative. “In what world is ‘too experienced’ a reason to not get a job?” challenged Jane. Yet it’s been a response she’d encountered many times.
The result of this prejudice is that women currently trail men in terms of pensions and earnings, storing up major problems as society ages. At 50, a woman may only be half way through her life and yet is already being excluded from the workplace and lumped by advertisers into a catch-all ‘55+ demographic’.
“Would you ask a group of people between 10 and 29 what it’s like to be young?” asked Jane. In 2015 only 3% of the world’s creative directors were women despite women over 50 being the most powerful consumer group on the planet, buying 47% of everything. Jane made it clear it’s time to use that economic power to force change. “The only way to reach this audience is by employing us.”
Jane was also clear about what was required. “There needs to be a societal change in attitudes. We need a new narrative. Ageism is to your face – it’s the last acceptable ‘ism’.” To the younger members of the Fora audience she said, “Ageism exists because aging is seen as representing death and decay. But I represent your future – and it’s a wonderful future.” Since starting Uninvisibility Jane has gained more and more recognition, including a Campaign Trailblazers of the Future award. As she continues to tell her story and to champion the role of women over 50, we’re sure that her profile will only continue to grow.