We won’t be silenced

Jane_Evans.jpg

The sad thing about watching yourself becoming invisible is that you can start to believe it

Jane Evans, founder of The Uninvisibility Project, an initiative designed to raise awareness and push back against the societal pressure that exiles older women into the oblivion

Considering that he’s been credited with minting hundreds of words, even Shakespeare must have found himself in the same position as Jane Evans: when you realize that the language you have is too limited to describe the incoming change and new words are necessary to embrace the future. That’s how the concept of “uninvisibility” came about. The Uninvisibility Project is an initiative designed to raise awareness and push back against the societal pressure that exiles older women into the oblivion.

After all, Jane has always been ahead of the curve. As a creative director, she helped Sydney to win the bid for the 2000 summer Olympics, she gave Cate Blanchett her first job (biting Tim Tam snacks), and she showed a series of “firsts” in TV commercials: a divorced couple, a couple living together without being married, and men doing laundry.

With a career in advertising, Jane thrived in the most ageist industry on the planet. She sold dreams for decades, but now that the clock is ticking and she entered the post-menopause realm, her dreams turned into a nightmare. She found herself not simply unemployed, but unemployable. The invitations to blend with the background came in forms ranging from no call-backs to blunt remarks like: “I’d give you a job, but you’d end up the old woman in the back of the department doing the shit no else wants.”

As Jane says, a life with many chapters gives you a perspective. And as one of those who broke the ground in professions where women were never allowed to venture before, she has no intention to surrender. On the contrary, she’s now inviting women to pioneer the second half of their careers.

Can you tell us a bit about your story?

After a highly successful thirty-year career in Australia where I brought up my kids as a single mum, I returned to London. I took a break and attended a screenwriting school. Basically, I went full circle from 30-second commercials to a 30-minute show and then I hit a wall.

When I tried to find a new job in advertising it turned out that I was overqualified, over-opinionated and there wasn’t a place for a highly senior creative female. I always managed to count on my talent, but agencies were not listening and clients were not listening either. That’s how I realized I became invisible.

What did you do then?

I turned to Twitter and put out a call: I wanted to see if there were women over 50 employed full time by an advertising agency, women who created the ads that we all see, and I got ten names. Ten names out of an industry that, according to the official government statistics, employed 499,000 people in advertising and marketing in 2015 and exported 6.9 billion pounds in advertising services in 2017.

In the wake of my disappointment (it didn’t turn to rage yet), I took part in a conference of The 3% Movement, a project that owes its name to the founder’s realization that only 3% of all US creative directors were women. The company designed a path to promote a more diverse and inclusive working environment in the agencies and now 11% of all creative directors in the US are female. Still, it’s not enough.

 How did the idea of The Uninvisibility Project come about?

Women over 50 buy 47% of everything. We’re the most powerful consumer group, but the unwritten rules say you’re invisible, stay invisible. Nonetheless it’s maddening and I don’t intend to surrender to this narrative.

Half of our life is spent beyond our biological life. Nobody looks at the 40-70 generation; it’s a generation that never existed before. It’s a great talent pool. We never heard of the pay gap, so it was enormous, and with zero maternity entitlements we had years of reduced or no income and now we have no choice but to carry on working.

Few of us have a private pension. It’s untenable. Not to mention the fact that the sad thing about watching yourself becoming invisible is you can start to believe it.

It’s a crisis nobody talks about…

It’s worst than you can imagine. Women over 50 have the highest growing successful suicide rate in the UK. They top the ranks for homelessness in Australia and not surprisingly they undertake the bulk of plastic surgeries in the US.

Why do you think aging women are hit the hardest?

There’s still massive discrimination against non-fertile women. It’s an idea that comes from thousands of years of history: once a woman had children and raised them, she hadn’t really anything else to provide to society. Lifespans were thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years? But now we can live up to 90 or 100, so the preconceived idea that women over fifty have little value is ridiculous in this day and age.

What is your plan?

We need to step up the game. We’ve become influencers; we’re waking people up. We want to become a voice that challenges and changes the narrative. It’s not only for the over 50, even women in their 30s and 40s are searching for role models.

We have to redesign careers, change the discourse. People say men have “returnship” and women “plateau.” We do not plateau, we return after we took care of the family. It’s insulting. We need new tools and languages.

Can you give an example?

We need to start to count raising a family as business experience, not a career break. Raising families gives us leadership, business and time-management skills that cannot be surpassed. Being over 50 means your ideas are no longer wild guesses, they're based on years of empirical evidence. Your hunches now come from highly tuned instincts. And you’ve hit the canvas so many times there isn’t anything you can’t handle.

How have you started to make a change professionally?

I couldn’t find a job in an agency, but this didn’t mean I was not good at my job. The Uninvisibility Project is part activists, part media company and part creative resource. It has a strong team and we talk with top women in the business.

It’s been proven that women over 55 make the best bosses and startups founded by people over 50 are more than 2.2 times more likely to succeed than those with founders in their 30’s.

What drives you mad about the way the market depicts aging women?

The average age in the advertising industry is 33.7 and when you hear this statistic, you think about the creatives. But that’s just one part of the story. You need to take a step back and look at the way the younger generations interpret the market research.

Because the societal imagery starts so young and because there’s not a diverse group (only 5% of people working in marketing are over 50), nobody is interpreting the figures the way we are. They just get us completely wrong.

From what I understand, it’s not only a matter of social justice, but of shaping the future?

With AI, robotics and machine learning about to radically change the world, we need ideas that will benefit everyone and have all voices heard. Analysts talk about a need for lifelong education to prepare us for a future of multiple careers. There’s a massive talent pool of pioneers with practical experience of building the future ready to retrain and show the way. But first they have to see us.

One last question: what are the fringe benefits that come with aging?

The confidence, absolute supreme confidence. I don’t care about what anybody thinks.