Finding Power in an Age of Ageism
by Lisa J. Gotto
September 18, 2020
In our last purpose-themed feature we explored Second Act Career Pivot possibilities for women at midlife. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll address something women often face in the later stages of their careers; ageism. We’ll also look at how women’s networks can play a supportive role in your future career success.
While everyone knows that age is not supposed to factor into the decision-making process when it comes to finding employment, or in our daily workday experience when we’re on the job, the reality for many is, that it still does. Women 50 and over also become more vulnerable to losing a long-held and/or financially sustaining career position due to downsizing in the workplace just at a time when they should be putting the icing on the cakes of their retirement plans.
Add to this our recent economic reality that has many younger candidates in the mix seeking new work or better positions, and one has to wonder what the road ahead looks like for working women at midlife.
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Even well-established and highly-educated career women are not entirely immune to lay-offs, downsizing, and buy-outs in this environment. This has some women in a period of personal reassessment about the future of their professional lives—and asking questions.
What are my options if my company does not call me back? Should I consider a career shift? What tools are available for women at a career crossroads?
In a recent online discussion moderated by Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post, Singletary addresses these issues with Susan Weinstock the Vice President of Financial Resilience Programming for AARP and Elizabeth White, author of “55, Underemployed and Faking Normal”.
From the tone of the discussion, it is clear that women over 50 are feeling vulnerable; experiencing aspects of ageism when it comes to job interviews, and having a much harder time even getting to that stage of the process. One woman questioned the panel about the best way to avoid entering her age on an online employment form. Another was concerned about having too much experience, asking if it made sense to dumb down her resume.
Meanwhile, ageism creeps into the daily lives of women over 50 who have remained on the job, as they report sometimes feeling marginalized and made to feel less relevant in roles that they once commanded. While this can occur in subtle ways it can, nonetheless, erode a woman's self-confidence, cause undue stress and even have her contemplating leaving a job she once loved.
Does stress from workplace ageism issues have you rattled? Our Calming Meditation can help you gain clarity and resilience so you can respond from a place of grace and wisdom.
Fortunately, the discussion provided more than just a vehicle to vent, offering constructive advice and some very hopeful notes, as well.
It’s helpful to recognize that the term ‘career’ doesn’t necessarily have the same connotation that it used to in the sense that we will have one work role or position throughout our lives. Rather, modern careering is successfully managing your work life through a series of roles that will most likely transition to either other relatable fields or perhaps something entirely different.
Weinstock is a believer, for instance, in the career pivot and provides encouragement with a side of realism to women looking to transition to a new industry. She explains to one listener who suffered a complete industry setback in her role as an event planner, that a thoughtful professional flip at 55 is not out of the question.
“I think re-careering is a good choice. You still have time to get into a new field,” Weinstock said, adding a reminder that the listener may need to work her your way up, but that given the shift in her current industry, it may be worth the effort.
So while it is not accurate to assume that older, well experienced workers have no place in today’s job market, every situation is unique and it is best to have a game plan that includes sensible strategies to temper the age issue. (Start devising your re-careering game plan here.)
The top strategy in any job search is networking. This is especially true for women at midlife. With this being the age of COVID, however, we no longer have the free-form networking events that we used to. So what are job-seekers doing now?
Much of what we are seeing now in the way of networking is happening digitally, making a strong presence on sites like LinkedIn even more essential.
Take the time to make sure that your profile and presence on the platform is working for you while you are looking for work. The most effective profiles are thorough, easy to read, optimized for search engine efficiency, and set you apart for the problems you can solve with the skills that you have. This strategy specifically targets your wealth of experience and helps reframe the ageism narrative.
Federal and state laws do prohibit age discrimination, but it is hard to substantiate. However, a 2018 survey conducted by the AARP proves it’s alive and well in the workplace with 45% of 3,900 surveyed saying they felt that age discrimination would be a major factor in not being able to find new employment quickly.
Other tips for successful networking communication include adjusting your normal, or pre-pandemic speak with a greeting that reflects how our current circumstances have changed, and participating in as many relevant group discussions as you can.
And it’s not only LinkedIn that’s proving useful in the jobseeker’s arena. Sometimes the associations and friends we build on our purely social networks can be purposeful, as well.
Philadelphia-based freelance writer Jill Waldbieser has spent the better part of two decades reporting and writing on everything from trendy cuisine to high-end homes, but recently experienced a lull in assignments after 40.
“I was a little surprised that it happened so soon,” she relayed. Fortunately, Waldbieser also spent some time cultivating a robust group of friends and industry associates on her more social networks.
One day during a congenial conversation she learned a friend in her Facebook writers’ group had an affiliation with The New York Times. Waldbieser, who is also a mom to a 6-year-old son, had approached a parenting editor at NYT in the past with story pitches without receiving a response.
“My friend mentioned that she knew another editor there and suggested I try contacting her.”
The result: a wonderfully written feature about homeschooling and parenting a deaf child through a pandemic. In addition, NYT has already greenlighted another of her story pitches.
For Waldbieser networking—and persistence—clearly paid-off. Grateful for the opportunity, she reached back to that friend to thank her. “I wanted to send her a little something,” she says. But in the manner of a true professional, her friend relayed that it wasn’t necessary and that she was just happy to help, which made Waldbieser realize something else of value from the experience.
“Networking works best when it’s genuine,” she says.
There is another takeaway that we can glean from this networking scenario, especially when it comes to ageism. Primarily, that leading with our talent and ability (our super powers) can help us rewrite the narrative when it comes to age, making the road ahead for working women more navigable, indeed.