Older women bear the brunt of age bias
We want to find new opportunities and new context in a world of work that doesn't have a roadmap for women who want or need to work beyond the retirement age.
Age discrimination happens for all, but studies show - and we all know deep down - that women get hit harder than men. Certain industries are worse than others, of course -advertising, media . . . anything with an emphasis on youth or glamour. Television, as I will attest, can be brutal.
And of course technology has disrupted industries across the board and forced increasing numbers of midlife women to rethink their options. Lesley Jane Seymour, former editor-in-chief of More, Marie Claire, and Redbook, is a two-time réinventer and the founder of CoveyClub, an online and offline community for women who are forty-plus. She offered this observation: "When I went into publishing, a lot of people spent their entire careers at one magazine. If you had told me in my twenties that magazines would be a thing of the past by the time I was in my fifties, I would have laughed in your face. In a bazillion years nobody would have guessed."
Tina Brown, former editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, recounted a story of a friend in her fifties who lost her job after being at the top of the magazine industry.
"Women are told they cannot be employed at 55. It is brutal."
Liz Bentley is a leadership coach to top companies and talent. She says that in many cases men seem to have protections that women don't have. "I go into companies, and there are men who are in their eighties and still on the payroll making some money, whether they are adding value or not, and the same company is firing women at fifty because they are not relevant anymore. I've been in plenty of companies where the attitude is 'Y'know, he's not effective anymore, but he's Jim.' If Jim's name was Sally, she wouldn't be there. The second she wasn't effective, she would have been tossed."
Ageism-and, particularly, gendered ageism-may be illegal, but it is hard to prove and, unfortunately, a fact of life. Not only are older workers more vulnerable to job loss in the first place, but employers are also reluctant to hire older workers because they consider their salaries too expensive or believe they will cost more in health benefits. Employers also worry about the cost of training older workers and not being able to recoup those costs because they assume those workers won't stay as long as they near retirement age. And then there's the perception that workers in their fifties and beyond are just slow and tech troglodytes. Why hire someone who might be a drain on resources when you can hire younger workers (aka digital natives) for less?
Looking for a job when you're over fifty and female can feel like a liability. I laughed at Ginny when she told me she took her birth year off her Facebook page and her graduation year off her résumé. It wasn't vanity, she told me; it was an act of economic self-preservation.
The longer we want to work, the more we are likely to run into age bias-especially women. That needs to change.
Let's change the narrative and reimagine the possibilities of mid- to late-career reinvention. We want to find new opportunities in a world of work that doesn't have a roadmap for women who want or need to work beyond the traditional retirement age. We want to make changes that will help us work better, longer.
We need to create our own comebacks, because the fact is that our numbers are growing: older women are playing a much bigger role in today's labour force.
I'd like to think about midlife as a time to assess and adjust. "Fifty really is halftime," my friend Stephanie Carter told me. "Why do you have this ritual of half time? To think about how you played the first half and apply that to your second half." Stephanie is reinventing after a successful career in venture capital. She's starting a media company for women who she thinks are, in a way, pioneers. "In every vein of our lives, health and wellness, investments, we are seeing that long-held assumptions [about how to structure the second half of our lives] are probably not true, and we're the first generation that can recognise and make active choices around that." So let's start making those active choices and take control of the rest of our working lives-now.
Mika Brzezinski and Ginny Brzezinski are co-authors of "Comeback Careers: Rethink, Refresh, Reinvent Your Success," from which this article has been adapted
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