I was in my thirties and had recently been promoted to run a portfolio of magazines at a major publishing company when a 40-something woman in the organisation offered me a sobering warning: "Once a woman turns 40 she becomes invisible".
Clearly that was a statement about the woman's perception that she was no longer valued in the organisation or the greater industry. To be honest it shocked me and I spent some time pondering her comment.
The woman had been a major magazine editor during the previous two decades. By the time I became a member of the leadership team she was editing a magazine that had had its day. The magazine was a compelling and relevant idea a few decades earlier but it's persona and content were increasingly irrelevant to the newer generations of magazine readers. It was very likely that the organisation would close it. This woman was feeling uneasy and, lets be honest, a bit bitter about her own ongoing relevance too.
At the time 40 was about five years ahead of me. I considered the landscape of senior women in publishing at the time. Although the industry wasn't heavily weighted towards 40-something women in leadership roles, there were examples. Australian Consolidated Press publisher Pat Ingram was enjoying a powerful position and Nene King was running ACP's most important titles Australian Women's Weekly and Woman's Day. Both were in their fifties.
It's true that there could have and should have been more women in senior publishing roles at the time (mid to late nineties). But I am not so sure that age was the contributing factor. I celebrated my fortieth birthday as publishing director of EMAP. My then CEO wasn't remotely interested in my age. In fact the issue only came up when we were having a laugh about the receptionist shrieking when she first met me (she had been a devoted Dolly reader when I was editor some 15 years earlier). He was far more interested in my experience, past successes and thinking on where I could take the business that he was about to entrust me with.
It is all too easy for someone with a personal axe to grind to generalise it as a problem for everyone. It's easier to sit back and complain about what hasn't happened for you instead of jumping on the front foot and making things happen for yourself. If you want to remain relevant in any industry with each passing decade then it's up to you to do something about it. When I unpacked the statement that women over 40 are invisible and considered the evidence that was there before me I deduced that age wasn't the key issue in print media (apparently it was in the TV industry at the time).
There were so few women of any age in leadership roles. At the time Pat Ingram and I were the only two women in the leadership teams of major publishing companies. When I consider the landscape today in terms of numbers of females represented at the most senior levels not a lot has changed. That's the real issue.
Has staying relevant been an issue for you in your career? How have you managed that?
Marina Go is GM of Hearst-Bauer, publisher of Harper's Bazaar, ELLE and Cosmopolitan. She is also chair of the Wests Tigers, a director of Odyssey House McGrath Foundation and a member of the advisory boards of the Walkley Foundation, The Remarkables Group and Women's Agenda. She has an MBA from The AGSM and is a member of the AICD. Her new book is Break Through: 20 Success Strategies for Female Leaders.