A few grey hairs

Dismissal of Lisa LaFlamme reminder of challenges facing older workers

A few grey hairs

I have a few grey hairs starting to come in on my head. OK, probably more than a few, I prefer not to count.

When younger, I always said I wouldn’t fight the inevitable and dye my hair as it greyed. Aside from highlights, I’ve stayed true to that — but never say never. And I fully understand people, including my friends, who greyed prematurely and darkened their roots accordingly.

Am I worried that a full head of grey hair will have negative consequences at work? Not with my youthful spirit… ha ha. I’m still managing to bike 20 km to work and back on my office days, so that reassures me I’m not dead yet.

There are many younger people in my office, meaning in their 20s and 30s and 40s. I know I’m one of the oldest, if not the oldest, at work. And some days I’m more aware of it than others, but in chatting with my work colleagues, I don’t feel especially aged – that comes out more in talking to my 18-year-old son, who tries to keep me up to date on the latest lingo and trends (and dies laughing when I get the terminology wrong).

TV anchor dismissal

Of course, ageism has been in the news of late with the dismissal of Lisa LaFlamme, who was the chief anchor and senior editor of CTV National News. Famously, during the pandemic, she decided to stop dying her hair and allowed it to go grey, and that apparently was a big reason why the network decided not to renew her contract.

I fear that the situation has been somewhat simplified, if not misconstrued, in placing all the blame on one executive unhappy with the host’s hair colour – apparently, he also clashed with LaFlamme over journalistic issues, and CTV has said it was looking to move in a different direction.

Few people are guaranteed a job for life, and while I understand LaFlamme’s devastation at being “blindsided” by the decision, she has to know that the risk was always there that her job would end at some point.

Yes, other iconic anchors who were men stayed on TV much longer, but those were also different times without the competition of Netflix and social media. Is it not possible that a man of the same age – 58 – with greying hair in LaFlamme’s position would also have been fired?

Read more: IBM recently faced discrimination claims after execs allegedly call older workers 'dinobabies' who should become extinct.

The negatives of ageism

However, I’m also well aware that ageism exists in the workplace – and the effects can be devastating.

Take a recent survey out of the U.S., as an example:

  • More than two-thirds (69 per cent) of respondents 50 and older are afraid they will lose their job because of their age.
  • Nearly half (49 per cent) of older workers said they have experienced age discrimination.
  • Nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) say that older employees are a target for workplace bullying.

And then there’s the stigma and stereotypes. According to respondents, older people:

  • work more slowly than younger people (67%) 
  • learn more slowly than younger people (66%)
  • are less motivated to work than younger people (65%)
  • are less productive than younger people (65%)
  • are less creative than younger people (63%)
  • are less sociable than younger people (62%)
  • have worse tech skills than younger people (69%)
  • are resistant to change (69%)

Read more: Stereotypes about older workers persist, according to a recent government report

On the plus side, 78 per cent say older people make better leaders than younger people, and 78 per cent say they are wiser than younger people, found the LiveCareer survey of more than 1,000 workers.

While I sympathize with LaFlamme – and the plight of so many women – when it come to ageism and sexism, I’m also hopeful that her dismissal has raised awareness about these issues and motivated people to continue the fight for greater equality.

Latest stories