The truth about being made redundant as a female creative in your fifties

Older women in adland, with their wealth of talent and experience, are a valuable commodity that agencies overlook at their peril.

We all know there aren’t enough older creatives working in adland.

My last agency was pretty rare, with at least seven creatives over the age of 45. Incredibly, five of them were women. Then, in February, they made three of those women redundant, including me. And this was one of the agencies supposedly championing diversity.

But – you know what? – I understand why.

It’s not the agency's fault per se, it’s all down to perception.

It’s easy to see me as a working mum who lives in suburbia and happens to be the wrong side of 50. And I agree I’m not a cool, young creative. But I am a pretty cool 51-year-old creative. I’m also rather good at "the floss".

I work hard and crack briefs fast (that’s the thing about being a more mature/senior creative) but I’m not in the bar every Thursday. I am a master of my craft (copywriting) but I don’t chase every opportunity to be a CD. I can lead and I’m great with clients but I’m also happy to slog away in the edit suite and create a cracking film for a client conference. I like the challenge of pitches but I’d prefer not to work too many weekends so I can spend some time with my family – even if all they want to do is play Fortnite.

In fact, that’s the crux of it. Advertising is my job, not my life.

A fuller life makes a better creative

But there’s no reason why I can’t be bloody good at the job I love and still have a life. In fact, I know the more of a life I have, the happier I am and that makes me a much better creative. My life also feeds my work. I know all about buying kids' clothes, what presents are most wanted, which is the best family car and how to persuade a nine-year-old to eat her greens.

Looking back, I could have changed things. Perhaps I should have taken more risks. I shouldn’t have accepted all the little briefs I was given, the ones that junior creatives would have sneered at and then failed miserably to crack. I should have fought to get bigger, better ones. I should have shouted louder, asked more questions and generally made more of a nuisance of myself. That’s what a bloke would have done.

Instead, I put my head in the sand. I worried I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t perfect. My opinion wasn’t valid. I suffered from imposter syndrome so I didn’t step up. I was shit at self-promotion and I was shackled by fear of failure. All things that women traditionally suffer from at work.

So, from now on, I’m going to sing my own praises. I’m going to put my head up and take risks. I’m going to fake it till I make it.

The value of experience

But I am not going to lie about my age. Because that’s part of what makes me who I am. And I believe I’m a very valuable commodity.

I’m over 50 and I’m proud. I’ve got a shed-load of life experience that I can draw on and 30 years of creative experience that makes me fast and able.

When I was made redundant, my ECD hugged me and said I was going to be fine because I was a unicorn. She meant that, as a female creative, I was a rare creature that is much sought after at the moment. Probably to fill diversity quotas but also because we really do add a very valuable and much missed point of view.

Rare and in demand

As only 5% of the people in our industry are over 50, I dread to think what percentage is female and over 50. We are rare indeed. So, I would go one step further and describe myself as an Alicorn – a unicorn with wings. (I know all about these because they’re my daughter’s current favourite mythical beast.) Alicorns are even rarer than unicorns and they’re also way better. They’re exotic and exciting, they are magical and mysterious, they’re fast and fun and colourful but – most importantly – they can fucking fly!

So, this is a call out to my fellow Alicorns. Let’s fly together. I’m thinking of setting up a Society for Very Senior Creatives – who will join me?


Madeleine Morris is a senior copywriter and creative director

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