Latina and other women journalists face a minefield of challenges, from seeing our representation in the single digits across newsrooms and media platforms, to pay inequity, even when you bring work in two languages to the table. My many battles included having to fight for my very name.
One news director had the audacity to tell me to change my last name. She wanted me to choose a surname that could be more easily pronounced for television. “Aguirre” with the double rr rolled was apparently too much for her. Too disruptive. Too Latina.
A lot of us have these stories of jefas and others telling us to shrink who we are and make ourselves more palatable to white audiences assumed to be the standard and norm. I often had to fight for myself, by myself. But I also learned that having allies in this business would help in any advocacy effort. There really is power in numbers.
As I continued my career, I found allies and power among my colleagues Roma Torre, Kristen Shaughnessy, Vivian Lee and Amanda Farinacci. Together, we have launched a podcast to address all kinds of workplace issues from the discrimination to bad bosses.
“For every Andrea Mitchell, there are countless older women who are gradually shown the door”
The idea came about after a long, soulful assessment of our careers and future goals. Collectively, we have nearly 150 years in the television news business, an investment of time that rewarded us with invaluable knowledge and experience. We built our reputations as newswomen who delivered meaningful stories culled over lifetimes, listening and learning throughout those decades.
We all love journalism, but the news media has little love for women in the true prime of their lives. Despite all that we had accomplished —the institutional knowledge, the contacts, the accolades, the hard-earned positions— the reality is that ageism rules this and so many other industries. For every Andrea Mitchell, there are countless older women who are gradually shown the door. Think of all the talent and wisdom squandered by a system that rewards youth over experience.
Prejudice towards older persons permeates so many attitudes and practices, especially in Western and other societies that don’t value people as they age. In the United States, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission defines age discrimination as treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. But while age discrimination is illegal, it’s still rampant. According to a 2021 AARP poll, as many as 78% of older workers have either witnessed or experienced age discrimination while at work.
Experts have studied the fascination with youth and the disdain for the more experienced. In the book Contemporary Perspectives on Ageism, contributors discuss the social construction of ageism. They lay out how it affects and is reinforced in every sphere of modern life, from labor markets to health care systems. They also examine “visual ageism,” defined as the social practice of visually underrepresenting older people or misrepresenting them in a prejudiced, unflattering way.
Journalism professor Maria Edström speaks to how women are marginalized. In her 2018 study “Visibility patterns of gendered ageism in the media buzz: a study of the representation of gender and age over three decades,” Edström states “Most mainstream media seem to signal that aging and older people, especially women, are not newsworthy, interesting, or desirable.”
While there are articles on ageism in media representation and news coverage, it’s difficult to find data on age discrimination at news publications and outlets. At the International Journalism Festival last year, Deborah Copaken, an award-winning journalist, news producer and bestselling author, talked about how ageism discussions are not formally included at conferences and also about the demoralizing rejection and sidelining she has experienced. “I was being ghosted by the entire media,” she said after explaining that her job inquiries weren’t even acknowledged.
And while ageism also affects men, we also live in a society that often frames older men as distinguished as they age. This comes to mind as I see, for example, a Jorge Ramos still positioned at the front and top for decades as Latinas struggle to maintain their careers.
Considering that the World Health Organization projects that the world population aged 65+ will triple by 2050, there is urgency in addressing ageism in the overall job market and the ability of older persons to make a living that will allow them a good quality of life. This should matter to everyone.
My colegas and I have taken stock of our skills, noting that as journalists, we knew how to research and communicate effectively. And after hearing from literally thousands of people, mostly women, share their stories of workplace abuses that smacked of sexism, racism, and ageism, we set out to write a book aimed at helping people avoid workplace pitfalls.
As reporters used to rapidly producing stories, we grew impatient with book writing. And so, the idea of our podcast called “The 5 of Us” was born. We’re using research for the book and our own experiences to inform our discussions. We also show our faces in the podcasts because we want to let our longtime viewers know that we’re still here and camera ready. It’s a new outlet for us but we’re operating with our same journalistic integrity and commitment.
We cover age and gender discrimination, pay inequity, burnout, and so many other nagging issues with which women struggle: how to ask for a raise, how to complain, when to quit or file a lawsuit. We do a lot of homework. We usually start with a hook from a reputable news source that sets the stage for broader discussion. We offer potential solutions, personal stories and our unique personalities.
Our age and experience have given us a perspective that adds value to our insights. Our ultimate goal is to become the go-to resource for anyone struggling with workplace challenges in any industry. We’re working very hard to make sure women find their voice and assert it because we are the ones who must insist on change.