In recent weeks the media in Canada has been abuzz with stories and speculation regarding the sudden departure of long-time CTV News anchor Lisa Laflamme.

Her sudden termination has raised questions regarding whether age was a factor in her dismissal, or whether CTV simply made a business decision based on objective business conditions. Whatever the reason, the speculation and criticism was sufficient to cause the station’s parent company, Bell Media, to initiate an internal inquiry:

While there are some who allege discrimination based on gender, or perhaps the fact that Ms. LaFlamme committed the cardinal sin of daring to go grey, I suspect the real reason has much to do with age and position.

Some Context on an Age-Old Problem

Age discrimination is not new.  It has been going on for years.  It is predominant in certain industries, notably banking, insurance, advertising, media, or any industry sector that caters to a youth market.  It mainly occurs in large corporations, and it affects both men and women, although historically I would venture to suggest it affects men disproportionately.

Age discrimination is the type of issue that Human Rights Commissions, employment lawyers and employment equity advocates don’t like to talk about.  Why?  Because most of the people impacted are white males, and they don’t generally fit into one of the four designated groups (i.e. women, visible minorities, Aboriginal Peoples, or the disabled).  As a result, it doesn’t generate the kind of hype or attention as discrimination against an African-American or an Aboriginal Person employee might attract.  Also, it is difficult to prove.

Make no mistake about it though.  Age discrimination is real, and it is growing.


Age Discrimination is a significant problem in the workforce, but one that is often ignored (Picture courtesy of Kampus Production and Pexels)

Age Discrimination is a significant problem in the workforce, but one that is often ignored (Picture courtesy of Kampus Production and Pexels)

Justifying a Bad Decision

To understand age discrimination one first has to understand the motivations behind why companies would engage in such an unethical practice.  Here is a cross-section of explanations companies use to rationalize their decision to terminate older, long-service employees:

1)  Budgetary constraints:  Older workers are generally more experienced, and naturally, earn more due to their seniority and years of expertise.

2) Corporate reorganization:  In cases of a merger or acquisition the purchasing company will inherit older employees.  If these individuals provide a function that already exists in the purchasing organization’s management decides they need to package out older workers rather than helping them find alternate employment within the new firm.

3) Corporate Culture Fit:  If an older employee works in a department with a large number of younger employees, he/she maybe perceived as not fitting in.  Not only can it be a matter of dress or taste but it can also be indicative of attitudinal differences.

4) Image:  In certain sectors, notably information technology and advertising, image is all important.  Older employees could be viewed as being out of sync with the tastes and opinions of a younger demographic cohort.

5) Managerial style: We currently have four age cohorts employed in the workforce.  Each is imbued with a different style and mode of operating.  To a younger managerial cadre the work habits of older workers may be perceived as dated or inefficient.

6) Pension Funding and Retiree Benefits:  No CEO of an established firm will admit to this, and most wouldn’t admit it even if they felt free to, but established companies try to limit the monies they pay out for pensions and retiree benefits. If an employer offers a pension plan, particularly a defined benefit pension plan, and if that pension plan comes with retiree medical benefits, this can represent a significant financial burden.  Add to this the fact that people are living longer, and you begin to understand the hidden motive behind terminating employees prior to them reaching retirement.

A Little Personal Perspective

I joined a major financial institution when I was 51.  I first started as a contract employee, and three months later I was asked to apply for a permanent opportunity.  I was successful, and became full-time.

The average age of my co-workers was low thirties.  Both my Director and Vice President were at least fifteen years younger than me.  Even though my co-workers had different priorities in their lives than me everyone in our department got along.  I got chided a lot for being older, and was often the target of many good-natured, age-related jokes.  However, I took these in good stride, and I like to think I gave as good as I got.

I would have been quite content to work at the bank until my retirement.  Indeed, my plan was to take an early, unreduced pension in July 2017 at age 63, and then transition into career coaching.  Such was not the case.  We had a series of organizational shake-ups starting with the appointment of a new President & CEO.  In late June 2015 I was called into a meeting and informed that my services were no longer required.  Despite other positions that were available to which I could easily have been assigned I was never considered for re-assignment.   I was two weeks shy of my tenth anniversary.  My plan to become a Career & Executive Coach was suddenly accelerated.

A month after my departure my former employer hired my replacement.  Her claim to fame was that she could speak Spanish.  She lasted one month before resigning.  The job that I performed was then apportioned to three different employees.  Or, to put it in context, the bank probably paid three younger employees approximately $180K to complete the work that I previously provided for about $108K.  False economy, for sure.

The fact that I had above average performance reviews, was loyal, had clearly fulfilled all stated objectives, and was two years short of being able to qualify for retirement, had little or no bearing upon my former employer’s decision.  The fact is, I was a financial liability, and an older one at that.

So Much For Workplace Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

One of the great paradoxes in Human Resources is how proponents of Employment Equity, Diversity and Inclusion manage to turn such a blind eye when it comes to age discrimination.  Suddenly, there is radio silence.  For instance, when was the last time you heard anyone criticize an organization for lack of age representation?  When did you last hear an EDI specialist call out an organization for lack of age diversity?

One would expect that individuals so concerned about workplace diversity would be equally committed about eradicating discrimination based on age.  This simply doesn’t occur.  My previous employer had all sorts of programs to promote workplace equity for designated group members.  We had Resource Groups for Southeast Asian, African-American and LGBTQ employees.  We sponsored scholarship programs for Aboriginal Students.  We had a multitude of conferences and symposiums that we hosted to promote female representation in senior management.  We had special employment programs that catered to disabled persons.  However, when it came to acknowledging the contributions and value provided by older employees there was a total absence of programs or initiatives.  Why?

Fact is, it didn’t happen, and it didn’t happen for a very simple reason:  age discrimination is invisible.  It is rampant, it is insidious, but because it doesn’t play into the EDI handbook, and because it isn’t sufficiently fashionable or Woke, it doesn’t garner the attention or concern it should.

A Final Thought….

When I heard what happened to Lisa LaFlamme I was saddened, but not altogether surprised.  Media organizations are all about image, and for some odd reason the prospect of an older reporter or newscaster fills them with dread.  Lisa LaFlamme is extremely bright and hugely talented, and any smart network would be lucky to have her.  She will likely get re-hired soon.

Not so fortunate however are the thousands of hard-working men and women who each year are confronted with age discrimination in the form of premature or unwarranted termination.  If the economy goes into a recession, and companies downsize, many older workers in all types of occupations will suddenly face this gut-wrenching experience.  Many will face this alone because governments and EDI specialists really don’t give a damn. They can extol the virtues of EDI but when it comes to older workers their response is nothing short of hypocritical.

Most, like me, will evolve and move on.  That’s what people do.  If they are really smart, I would encourage them to target small to medium-sized employers and start-ups, most of whom aren’t fixated on age or intimidated by wrinkles, experience or grey hair.

Shortly after leaving my former employer I transferred all my financial assets from my former employer where I once banked to a local credit union.  When the Customer Service Representative at my local bank branch asked me why I would take such drastic action having been a thirty-five year client my response was simple: “If your bank doesn’t like having older workers as employees I suppose they also don’t want older people as clients”.

Sometimes, what goes around really does come around.