Australian expat Jane Evans is a highly awarded creative director, agency founder and published author working in London. After thirty-something years making great ads – rather than reaping the rewards of a glittering career – Jane found herself becoming invisible. True to her motto ‘don’t moan it – fix it,’ she took action to combat society’s view that midlife women aren’t employable (let alone worth marketing to).
Starting with the Uninvisibility Project to showcase the talents of indomitable women over fifty; Jane also founded Visible Creating, a studio and talent network; and Visible Start, a training programme to put midlife women back into the workforce by training them in areas with skills shortages. The first pilot, in partnership with Brixton Finishing School, has trained 300 midlife women in digital media. By the end of January 2022, the programme will have 20+ diverse midlife women employed by WPP media agencies across the UK. Oh, and she wrote a book on the topic with her long-time friend and colleague Carol Russel.
Mavens corresponded with Jane to learn why combatting ageism against women benefits everyone.
Jane, what was the ad industry like for women when you first came on the scene? How has it changed?
I started my career at London hotshop Leagas Delaney in 1982, my copywriter was a disabled Black man. In 1990 at O&M Sydney, I was in a creative department that was almost 50/50 male female. In the eighties and nineties, there were more female creatives in Australia than anywhere else in the world. So what happened to the diversity?
In the early 90s, the money men came in and the old boys club took control from the creatives.
In the mid-nineties, a bunch of privileged boys did EST and believed they were the masters of the universe. They started the new boys club. 21-year-olds became creative directors trampling over the first generation of women who had worked diligently and won the awards to earn the position (in 1995, women dominated the Aussie awards scene). By 1998, most of our careers were ended or we were shipped overseas.
We all know them – the whisper network is actually a blood-curdling scream.
Why is it that once women reach midlife, society ceases to value their worth?
Thousand of years of history. Up until this point, once a woman lost her fertility she had no further use in society. We have a massive job to change society’s narrative.
Midlife women are the first generation of women on this earth where most of us will live past ninety. We are the most educated, experienced, healthy and vibrant midlife women the world has ever seen.
Throwing away all that talent is a crime and a very dangerous precedent!
You recently authored ‘Invisible to Invaluable: Unleashing the Power of Midlife Women’ with Carol Russel. Who is the book for and what can we learn from it?
The book is a manifesto for midlife women and a rallying cry for the women who pioneered women’s careers to strap on the armour and change the world again. Men should read it if they don’t want to be taken by surprise by an ‘army of grey-haired women’.* Younger women should read it for inspiration and a kick up the backside to become better sisters!
*As Gloria Steinham predicted.
What advice would you give your younger self?
You will spend your whole career being undermined and attacked by mediocre white men. There will be times when they will knock you out. But carry on, you will get the last laugh.
How can the next generation of advertising women help create a future in which we won’t be invisible when we reach mid-life?
Start now by banishing the idea that a woman over 45 goes in the next round of redundancies. Then, go back and employ the generation of women who fought for the rights you now enjoy. They don’t deserve to retire in poverty because they didn’t have paid maternity leave!
Young women in advertising should refuse to work on a brief aimed at women 45+ if there aren’t women 45+ on the team. That is not belligerent – it’s safe guarding your future. And clients should demand women 45+ on their team – they hold all the power!