Are older women invisible in the workplace?

Older woman laptopOver the last few years, my friends and I have noticed a change in the way we are viewed in the workplace. We mostly all work in fashion, design or the media and many of us never imagined we would still be worrying about transeasonal colour palettes or selling coats in August, well into our fifties.

Our generation was brought up to stick at a job, be loyal employees and work hard in order to do well. We went to college, mostly did vocational courses and worked our way up through the system, learning the skills that we needed to become experts in our field.

Lots of my friends are design directors, editors, CEO’s or run their own businesses. They know their industry inside out and have become fonts of knowledge and sources of inspiration for the younger members of their teams. They are respected in their fields and by and large happy in their jobs, but when it comes to looking for a new role, they increasingly worry that their age is seen as a negative.

Some women have raised families while working and balanced the needs of others alongside trying maintain their career and other have stayed at home full-time to be with their kids. Anyone who has brought up toddlers and teenagers know that the negociating skills required, equip any women to run the UN, while cooking a Shepherds Pie and assembling an Ikea wardrobe!

Some of us have diversified along the way and have caught up with the slash/slash generation, by embracing technology and incorporating it into our skill set. This can make us more difficult to define, but ultimately more employable – or at least it should.

Women in their 40’s and 50’s can feel a sense of liberation as their kids start to leave home and they no longer have the constant many/childminder/nursery pick up dilemmas and work life balance to negotiate. And those without kids are often ready to try their hand at something different, using their well established skills in a new way.

This should be an exciting time full of opportunities and options, but instead it can sometimes feel like middle aged women are invisible and have passed their sell by date, work wise.

Over the last couple of years I have increasingly heard, smart, highly skilled women tell me “how lucky they are at their age, to have found a new job” or even worse, “grateful to be working at all”!

Years of experience and a mature approach to work, should be seen as plus points by potential employers,  but as one friend said to me the other day, I seem to be “off the radar, when it comes to recruitment companies calling me anymore”.

Why is this, especially in a time when we are being told we will be expected to work until we are at least 70?

Is it just the shallow, youth obsessed fashion & media industries that shun the older woman in the workplace – I don’t imagine doctors or lawyers encounter this attitude – or perhaps it’s an example of how society in general still sees ageing as something negative and a little bit scary.

Employers in the US seem to have a different approach, with older people working across many different sectors well into their 70’s and 80’s in both high profile and lower paid jobs. In the Uk, we might see the odd “novelty” older person working in B&Q, but apart from that, anyone over the age of 60 is pretty much invisible in the workplace.

So what should we do when applying for jobs in our middle years –  lie about our age, cut our CV in half, or have botox before an interview? I have friends who won’t even tell their own children their real age, for fear of a potential employee finding out!!

Often younger generations can see older people as less relevant and uninformed, which in many cases couldn’t be further from the truth. The middle-aged people I know, are tuned in both socially and culturally, as familiar with technology as their teenagers (well maybe not the TV remote!), have enormous amounts of energy and enthusiasm and great management and negotiation skills.

As long as younger people are being fed negative messages about ageing through advertising and the media, the less likely they are to see us as a useful part of society or the workplace. We need to see more older people with very real and relevant roles and they need to be prominent and front of house, rather than stuck in a back room checking the stock.

And we need to be more vocal and unapologetic about our age. We have wisdom, experience, and skills that are  beneficial to potential employers and we should be confident in our ability to contribute positively to the workplace.

After all, if future generations are going to live to an average age of 100, products, environments and services will have to adapt to accommodate them and who better to do this than baby boomers.

When fashion retailers wake up and realise that the boomers are the ones with the money (not the millenials) they may also find it necessary to employ designers who understand this important, but largely ignored market.

It’s time for us to make some noise about our worth and for employers to change their attitudes to age. After all they are lucky to have us – not the other way around!!



  • V says:

    Love this. And here’s a little something I picked up earlier on the same subject – US figures, but relevant all the same:
    ‘Despite the fact that people over 50 are responsible for about half the consumer spending in the country, they are the target for 5% of all advertising.’ Forbes calls them “the most ignored wealthy people in the history of marketing.”

  • Tiffany says:

    When I started as a freelance financial copywriter, I was maybe a couple of years older than the women in marketing who I was generally working for. Now, it’s more like 10-15 years. People I’ve only talked to on the phone or via email are often surprised when they meet me (I sound young, apparently). This has just started to bother me recently – I am growing out my grey hair, but keep worrying about whether this is going to be a problem with clients. Fortunately I have a very specialised set of skills – I know much more about complex financial products that most marketing copywriters – so I hope this will keep me employable for a while. But still … I certainly don’t relish the thought of trying to find new clients. Finance is one thing, but marketing is definitely a young person’s game :)

  • Kate Fowler says:

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