We like to think we’ve come a long way since the society our parents lived in. We look back at the span of their years and know that it’s not us. We seem to look younger than they did at the same age, dress younger, behave younger – and importantly as women – we’ve had the opportunity for professional careers many of our mothers’ generation were denied. This is progress – even if a little slow.
But the career path for women still isn’t an easy one – inequality in the workplace, the gender pay gap, and for those with children the added pressure of families and homes to run. Even so, we have forged our successes despite these limitations because we know that we have to work harder to achieve the same level of accomplishment as our male counterparts.
And then – when we have finally established our capabilities, our worth and a level recognition within the workplace, against the odds of inequality and sexism – we reach midlife and discover that we have a new battle ahead of us – the quietly pervasive attitude of ageism. The positions we hold are now layered with the unspoken risk that they could be deemed more suitable for a younger person.
Julia Sawalha recently spoke out about exactly this when she revealed she would not be recast as the voice of Ginger in the upcoming sequel to Chicken Run – a decision taken by the producers with the reasoning that her voice now sounds ‘too old’. They had not heard her voice. And despite recording her own voice test at home, sounding barely any different to her voice in the original film, and sending it to the producers, their conclusion remained unchanged. You have to question what was at play here.
The Equality Act exists to prevent any discrimination on the basis of personal characteristics and this includes age – yet last November new research by the Office for National Statistics found that the redundancy rate for those in their 50s is more than double the rate for those in their 40s. There can be no coincidence here. It’s clear that ageism is still very much something we have to contend with – as Julia Sawalha discovered to her cost, unfairly and outrageously.
I know that ageism can affect men and women alike, and not just within the workplace but across all areas of society. Yet it’s a statistically proven fact that as men reach midlife – let’s say late 40s to 50s – they see promotions to higher positions, places on corporate boards, senior partnerships and increased salaries, while women are overlooked for promotion, still fighting for equal pay and more often than not side-lined to accommodate the younger generation climbing the employment ladder.
Of course, there’s an element of generalisation here. There will always be female exceptions to the rule in any industry, and we are becoming more adept at developing midlife secondary careers in an entrepreneurial capacity when the employment path we had chosen and imagined would see us through lets us down. We have to.
The disparity in redundancy for women at this age compared to men is huge. In my opinion, there’s no doubt about it – ageism in the workplace for women is perpetuated by men – who, if you think about it, will actually only get a further ten years down the line before they find the same thing happening to them. But they do get a good few more years out of it than we do.
At Studio10 – when it comes to ageism – our mantra will always be that things have to change. We need to stand up, to be seen and be heard. It is up to us to be the voice of change – but then there’s the irony when a well-respected and talented actress is disregarded for a character she initially made famous because apparently – at only 51 – her voice is considered ‘too old’.