Shock of Age(ism)

In the age of #TimesUp and #MeToo, there’s still a forgotten group among women: Those who are over 40. And until you solve this problem, Silicon Valley and Hollywood, you’re not tackling diversity.

 Halle Berry is 51 and still kicking some serious ass.

Halle Berry is 51 and still kicking some serious ass.

I have fought some incredible battles over the past years: Raising my child as a single parent, surviving cancer, working like crazy on both Hillary campaigns only to see things come their bitter end. But now I’m facing an enemy that, to bend a phrase, is like fighting with jello: Ageism.

I’ve been the CMO for a number of consumer-facing high tech companies, as well as senior marketing and strategy person for some incredible brands. You might have heard of a few of them: Evite. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. Electronic Arts. I have a long history of managing teams to excellence, of trying and winning (and sometimes not winning, but learning from) challenges on all sorts of fronts. I’m a rock star at defining brands and scaling them to market dominance, creating partnerships, making the company I’m working for the gold standard in its industry. But none of that seems to matter right now, because, in a word, I’m just too old.

I just received my latest rejection from a digital company that actually plays in the non-profit space. (I’ve been turning my attention to non-profits lately, because I’m finding that they are seeking digital transformation, that they actually respect experience, and dammit, I want to have an impact on what’s happening around me.) I fit the profile this company is seeking to a “t.” And I’m pretty sure they shot me down because, from their perspective, I’m “too senior.” Despite the fact that I currently count several high-profile non-profits as my clients, basically invented the tools they use to communicate, and intimately understand the challenges in the space.

They’re not the only ones. I got way down the road on an opportunity to build a new business for a wonderful brand (shall remain nameless, but rhymes with “BearTandT”), before I was told, “Well, we think you’re a great candidate, and we’re not really turning you down, but we’re going to hire someone ‘more junior’.” Nice job on the language, in-house HR counsel.

It’s debilitating, and insidious. It’s much more painful than the year-long treatment I had to go through for cancer. During which, BTW, I wore a wig, marched out of the house, met with clients, and did some amazing things. Was so good at it that people didn’t notice. Even complimented my haircut, some of them.

I’ve also had quite a few companies as clients who are run by people much younger than I am. They have benefited from my experience, from the fact that I’ve lived through both success and failure, from my ability to be calm and chop up problems into manageable chunks, even when the house is on fire. Those are things you can only learn by doing, and I thank my lucky stars every day for the experienced mentors –both men and women — who helped me develop those skills.

Yes, change is afoot. I’m incredibly thrilled that the rampant sexism that plagues Hollywood is finally being called out. I have a daughter who has just launched her career in that world, and I look forward to a future where she is not merely an object of desire or a second-class citizen in the decision-making process. I proudly say “you go, girl” to Greta Gerwig and Rachel Morrison.

I’ve also felt the sting of harassment and assault that is being tackled by the #MeToo movement. A situation so endemic that in some cases, I didn’t even realize it was happening to me. I give huge props to the young women (and men) who’ve spoken out and filed lawsuits over behavior that I tolerated because, well, it’s how things were.

But there is still a group of us who don’t have a voice: Women like me, who have excelled in their fields, who’ve often had to take a break for one reason or another — life-changing circumstances that had to be handled — and who stand outside the bubble, skilled, smart, accomplished, in the prime of their working lives … and invisible.

This is despite the fact that, time and again, studies show that organizations populated, managed or run by mature women tend to outperform their peers, on almost all fronts.

We don’t have a hashtag. There’s no shiny black-and-white designer-created pin for us. But we’re here. We’ve done remarkable things, and we can continue to do them — actually much longer than the dudes, because we live longer, generally with our faculties intact.

If you’re reading this, I urge you to check out organizations like Reboot Accel, founded by my friend Diane Johnson Flynn, and take a flier on bringing one or two of the women they work with into your company. You won’t regret it.

And if you need someone like me — rocket fuel for any company I work on, a calm voice for almost any problem you’re facing — you can find me at angela@digitalwhisper.co. I’ll respond to every email, and probably even give you a bit of free advice if you need it, because I believe that a rising tide floats all boats. And I like to sail, fast.

I’m also working on that hashtag. Thinking #SeeMe might just fit the bill.

Angela Gyetvan