Ageism - The Workplace

An advertising and marketing industry guide to age-inclusion and representation

The workplace

How employees of all ages can work together to mitigate ageist mindsets and behaviors in the workplace.

Calling everyone in to call ageism out.

Ageism is a socially accepted -ism. It can be overt or covert. Conscious or unconscious. And anyone at any age can experience it – or perpetuate it.

Often, we don’t even recognize words or actions as ageist because they are so ingrained and embedded in our culture. It shows up in our terminology, assumptions, and stereotypes. 

Negative actions, like ignoring, marginalizing, dismissing, or interrupting people and making assumptions about their abilities or interests based solely on age can lead to exclusion, denial of opportunities for career advancement, and unwarranted dismissal. 

This hurts everyone.

Ageism at work


of people on the higher end of the age spectrum are employed in advertising

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently five generations in the workplace. In advertising, only about half of people at the higher end of the age spectrum are employed, compared to the general population. Additionally, a higher proportion of advertising industry employees experience ageism, compared to a general survey conducted by AARP (75% vs 62%).

Ages during which respondents experienced ageism

As with every other -ism, our intersecting identities impact our experiences and relationships in a variety of harmful ways.

Source: New & Improved Age Inclusion in Adland Survey 2023

Ageism is insidious: it can affect perception, performance, productivity, promotion, and people across the age spectrum.

Studies show age-diverse groups are more creative and able to solve problems better than non age-diverse groups. 

So how do we work together to ensure everyone can thrive at every age and stage?

It starts with psychological safety.

Psychological safety [ sīkəˈläjək(ə)l sāftē ]


The belief that one can speak up about ideas, questions, or concerns without the risk of punishment or humiliation, even if they make a mistake.

Source: Amy Edmonson, Harvard Organizational & Behavioral Scientist

Psychological safety is crucial to fostering workplaces of inclusion and belonging, and is especially important with mixed-age teams. It can alleviate tension between generations and have a major positive effect on morale, engagement, and productivity.

It can be a particular challenge to foster this in a hybrid workplace, but it can be done with intention.

Download The Psychological Safety Toolkit

Don’t forget freelancers!

Freelancers are an imperative and important group, yet are often left out of agency initiatives, which is a major missed opportunity. The industry has always relied on freelance talent at all levels. Often, older employees who are forced out turn to freelance or contract work. And that dries up as age goes up.

Considering freelancers as a part of your overall talent strategy and including them in all aspects of agency culture can be a good way to make strides in age-inclusion.

Employee experiences
across the age spectrum

We asked employees of all ages and stages to share their experiences with ageism. Here's a sampling of what they reported.


of respondents reported that ageism has a moderate to great impact on interpersonal relationships at work.

Source: New & Improved Age Inclusion in Adland Survey 2023

Younger workers:

  • Not being taken seriously

  • Being talked down to or treated like they don’t know anything

  • Being told they didn’t have enough years of experience

  • Told to pad their resume with any experience that could be considered remotely relevant

  • Being undermined when they could clearly do the job

  • Denied promotions or stretch opportunities

  • Lowballed on salary

  • Expected to work inhumane hours

Older workers:

  • Ghosted by recruiters and companies

  • Not being able to land a job despite a qualified resume

  • Told to shave years off of their resume to avoid the dreaded 2-pager (a coded flag for “old” AKA experienced)

  • Told they are too experienced or too expensive

  • Not being respected by younger colleagues

  • Written off as “out of touch”

  • Advised to “stay current”

  • Pressured to retire early or laid off when they hit a certain age (by 45, and sometimes younger, depending on the agency/department)

Learn More in The New & Improved Surveys

Research shows that mixed-age teams are key to cultivating a sense of inclusion and belonging, especially for early- and late-career employees. 

Source: AARP Manager Toolkit: Leading Mixed-Age Teams

Age inclusion takes action

Actions we can all take to help combat bias and stereotypes and support emerging talent, hard-earned expertise, and everything in-between.

  • Recognize bias.
    • Creating awareness requires understanding that there is a problem. You can’t change something you don’t know needs changing, including yourself.
    • Take the Harvard Implicit Association Test (choose the age one) to learn more about bias that you might have. (And remember, there’s nothing to be ashamed of — we all have biases. But we can – and must – intentionally work against them!)
  • Expand our definition of age.
    • In addition to chronological age, there’s the concept of subjective age – how a person sees themselves. This can include life stage, career stage, generation, etc. 
    • Use this guide to gain a broader, more complex understanding of age.
  • Learn the nuances of successfully managing mixed-age teams
  • Train all levels to understand the benefits of age inclusion and diversity.
    • Include age in your modules on anti-bias training.
    • Offer the same continuing education opportunities to all employees, regardless of their experience level.
  • Create and maintain an intergenerational Employee or Business Resource Group (ERG/BRG).

I'm really tired of seeing all the agency virtue signaling about DEI, which usually includes several carefully composed photos of staffers with varying ethnicities and gender identities, and they're all in their 20s or 30s. Ageism is the last -ism that everyone seems okay with.

Source: New & Improved Age Inclusion In Adland Survey 2023

What will it take to eradicate ageism and allow people of all ages to contribute at the highest levels?

The 3% Conference 2022 Hackathon crowdsourced answers to some important questions. Industry folks weighed in.  

Read through and see what resonates. Share with your colleagues and brainstorm ways you can take action.

    • Broaden the definition of DEI to include ageism

    • Create an environment that rewards creative collaboration with intergenerational teams

    • Offer age-inclusion training on both sides of the spectrum

    • Remove title designations like junior/senior

    • Get rid of “under” lists like 30 under 30, etc.

    • Intentionally build intergenerational teams

    • Normalize and celebrate all life stages and needs (discuss things like menopause, parenting, caregiving, etc.)

    • Teach managers to feel comfortable with a more experienced employee and vice versa

    • Focus on performance, not status

    • Remove age limits attached to roles

    • Create internship programs for people of all ages, including experienced talent

    • Don’t assume everyone wants to ascend to management roles

    • Have a “no ghosting” rule

    • No unspoken norms

    • Lose the generational and age labels in briefs

    • Dismantle “expert” culture

Check out these checklists

Resources and actions to help you foster an age-inclusive mindset and culture across your organization.

  • Policies & People & Procedures Checklist

    • Learn to consciously recognize ageist behavior when you see it — or when you do it. Try this: If you replace the concept of age with gender or race, does it feel appropriate? Probably not!

    • Hold yourselves and your teammates accountable for dismantling systems of discrimination together.

    • Agree to address it. If you hear or see something ageist, consider kindly pointing it out.

    • Assume good intent.

      1. Give the benefit of the doubt — the person may not realize what they were saying.
      2. If someone calls you into a conversation, try not to get defensive — listen and learn in order to grow and improve.
    • Provide ongoing opportunities for all ages to learn. Make it meaningful and engaging - not a check-the-box! (Checking this box is cool, though.)

  • Age-Inclusive Mindset Checklist

    • Increase consistent inter-age contact across the organization.

      1. Fostering interaction between people of different ages reduces intergroup prejudices and stereotypes in all directions. 
      2. Intentionally pair workers of different ages together who may not have otherwise have the opportunity to team up. 
      3. Watch out: When left to our own devices, humans tend to gravitate to folks like us — bias is tough to shake!
    • Encourage mentorship across the age spectrum.

      1. Pairing mentors and mentees with a gap of 15 years or more provides the most benefit. 
      2. Remember, it’s not a one-way street — people of different ages mentor and learn from each other.
    • Create age-inclusive Employee and Business Resource Groups (ERGs & BRGs) with the goal of supporting all employees

      1. Provide a budget and allow participants to choose programming and efforts to foster age-inclusive mindsets and actions.
      2. Think activities, talks, volunteer opportunities, training, etc.
Download Checklist

Remember: Age alone does not = ability

The workplace doesn’t work without all of us. Neither does the world.

The world is an age-diverse place, and our industry organizations must reflect it so that we can all thrive — at every age and stage. 

How will you do your part to foster age-inclusion in your workplace? What ongoing actions will you commit to?