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What Canadian news anchor Lisa LaFlamme’s ouster signals about aging women in the workplace

August 31, 2022, 1:14 PM UTC
Lisa LaFlamme poses with her Canadian Screen Award in Toronto in April.
George Pimental

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Serena Williams will play her second-round U.S. Open match tonight; Uber unveils expanded safety features, and Canadian news anchor Lisa LaFlamme’s exit is about more than just gray hair. Have a great Wednesday.

Going gray. A controversy has been brewing in Canada for the past two weeks. It started when Lisa LaFlamme, one of the country’s highest-profile newscasters, announced the end of her 35-year career at network CTV.

LaFlamme made clear in the Aug. 15 announcement that the decision to leave was not her own. “I guess this is my sign-off from CTV,” she told her loyal viewers, many of whom have followed her decades of coverage on Canadian politics and world events. The network owned by Bell Media has recently suffered layoffs and budget cuts, and rumors swirled that the prominent news anchor had clashed with executives.

But the controversy really picked up steam when Canadian publication Globe and Mail reported days later that a network exec had questioned LaFlamme’s decision to allow her hair to go gray. The 58-year-old journalist, like many women, stopped dyeing her hair during the pandemic and has embraced a full head of gray over the past two years. She told viewers after she made the switch that it was “liberating” and that she wished she’d done so sooner.

Lisa LaFlamme poses with her Canadian Screen Award in Toronto in April.
George Pimental

The Globe and Mail’s reporting sparked immediate outrage. Canadians of all ages were appalled that ageism and sexism could have led to the ouster of a beloved anchor. The Canadian branch of the fast-food chain Wendy’s tweeted an image of its typically redheaded mascot with gray pigtails. Dove followed suit with a #KeepTheGrey campaign, urging followers to make their profile photos grayscale and “support women aging beautifully on their own terms.”

Bell Media was forced to respond as international brands weighed in. And in a Friday LinkedIn post, CEO Mirko Bibic addressed the matter. “The narrative has been that Lisa’s age, gender or gray hair played into the decision,” he wrote. “I am satisfied that this is not the case and wanted to make sure you heard it from me.”

The details surrounding the end of LaFlamme’s storied tenure are still unclear; both parties are bound by separation agreements, Bibic wrote. But the incident has gained traction outside Canada, with new stories published this week in the New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review and a debate among CNN anchors about the possibility their peer was ousted over her age and appearance.

Whatever the full story behind LaFlamme’s firing, the situation is resonating with women. Several told the Toronto Star how they also embraced the gray when salons shut down—and haven’t gone back despite pressure from people around them. Women, many of whom already fear ageism in their own careers, are asking, “‘Wow, if this could happen to her, how could it not happen to me in my low-profile job?’” Simon Fraser University sociologist Amanda Watson told the New York Times.

As supporters rally around LaFlamme, her career is hopefully far from over. “At 58, I still thought that I’d have a lot more time to tell more of the stories that impact our daily lives,” the anchor said in her sign-off message. She might not have that time at CTV—but her story is just getting started.

Emma Hinchliffe

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