Allegations that a popular television news anchor in Canada lost her job after “going gray” have sparked anger and disbelief, throwing confusion at one of the nation’s largest media organizations and highlighting the rigid expectations women face in the workforce.
In a two minute video posted on Twitter On Monday, Lisa LaFlamme announced that she had been fired as anchor of CTV National News, one of the most-watched late-night shows in the country.
In the clip, which has since been viewed more than 4 million times, LaFlamme said she was “shocked” by the decision to terminate her contract.
“I am still shocked and saddened,” she said. “At 58, I still thought I would have a lot more time to tell more stories that impact our daily lives.”
LaFlamme, who began hosting the main show in 2011, was one of many women who quit dye their hair during the pandemic and allowed their natural hair color to show through. LaFlamme called the decision “liberating” and told viewers he wished he had made the move sooner.
But on Thursday, the Globe and Mail reported that Michael Melling, a senior executive at CTV News, had “asked who approved of the decision to ‘let Lisa’s hair turn grey’.” Melling and LaFlamme also clashed over journalistic issues before Melling finally told LaFlamme that his contract was ending, the Globe and Mail reported.
LaFlamme has worked for CTV News for the past 35 years, reporting from conflict zones and the sites of devastating natural disasters. She recently won the award for Best News Anchor at the Canadian Screen Awards.
Shock at his departure quickly spread throughout Canadian journalism, with political and business leaders weighing in as well.
Former Prime Minister of Alberta Rachel Notley I call LaFlamme “a massive voice in the Canadian media” and former environment minister Catherine McKenna called the treatment of the veteran journalist “appallingly shoddy.”
Others alluded to perceptions of sexism and ageism. Arlene Dickinson, a noted investor, praised LaFlamme for aging “gracefully” on national television and inspiring others.
“Then the people at CTV brought their female age discrimination to work,” Dickinson said.
In a statement, CTV’s parent company, Bell Media, said LaFlamme’s removal as anchor was a response to “changes in viewer habits.”
He did not respond to a request for comment about allegations that LaFlamme’s hair color played a role in his removal.
But at a tense company town hall meeting Thursday, executives denied that LaFlamme’s firing was motivated by her age or gender.
“I’m a woman. I’m a woman. I’ve been here for 25 years. Do you really think I would fire a woman because she’s a woman?” Senior Vice President Karine Moses said after pointed questions from the executive producer of LaFlamme, Rosa Hwang, on why she was dumped.
On Friday, the company said in a statement that it took allegations of discrimination “very seriously” and was taking steps to initiate an independent internal third-party review of the workplace. The company also said it “regrets” the way it handled LaFlamme’s departure from CTV, as it “may have left viewers with the wrong impression” that the company did not value his three-decade career.
The furor over LaFlamme’s firing has highlighted the challenges that women, even those at the top of their field, face on a daily basis, said Amanda Watson, a sociologist at Simon Fraser University.
“Like many of us, I am shocked and not surprised,” Watson said. “I have a suspicion that she lost her job because she got gray hair, it can’t be what happened. and at the same time I feel of course that’s what happened… Every time I look in the mirror these days I wonder why I’m [colouring my hair]. I don’t have to. I’m a teacher!
Watson said the network’s decision had an undertone of misogyny and sent a strong signal about societal expectations to other women.
“A lot of women won’t have the opportunity to challenge those early expectations within themselves,” Watson said. “It’s often not an option to stop maintaining body hair when professionalization standards make or break someone’s ability to put food on the table.”
Others pointed to an apparent double standard, allowing men to show their age and still work. Prominent Canadian news anchors like Peter Mansbridge and Lloyd Robertson, whom LaFlamme replaced when he retired at age 77, enjoyed much longer careers and received carefully produced send-offs.
“This is not just that we don’t condone aging in public in this kind of position, it’s that we apparently don’t want to look at aging women. We still rely on the authority, character, warmth, familiarity and comfort of older men,” Watson said. “Everything feels like the same story line over and over again. It’s a cliché and it’s irritating.”