Contributed by Barbara Mark, Ph.D. | A Time of My Own / Full Circle Institute Leadership and Life Strategies for Professional Women in Their Prime
The 40s, 50s and 60s are three of the most dynamic decades in a woman’s life and career.
This becomes important as women in their 40s look at long term career planning. Women in this age group are in a stage of personal and psychological development that includes moving away from depending on others for approval and permission and are making important career decisions. Women are typically aggressively moving into more visible and influential leadership positions in their areas of interest and expertise.
It is a great time for women to be robust in their desire to achieve the results they want to achieve at this time in their career. They have credibility and enough experience to know what they want to be doing and at what level. They have done their networking and know how to find the contacts that will help them to move up where they are or make the big move to a different place. If they are unsure of where they want to be, this is a great time to engage with a coach to help get some clarity and develop strategies for making change.
This is an exciting time and yet a challenging time for two reasons. First, this age group is called the Sandwich Generation. They are likely to still have children, sometimes young ones, if they have had children, and parents who are aging and may require care.
Second, it is during this decade that women typically will begin to enter perimenopause and experience the accompanying array symptoms. For some women it is a blip on the developmental radar screen and for others it is a nightmare! In our youth obsessed culture, nothing says “old” like menopause. It has been so fully stigmatized that women are often unfamiliar the symptoms never mind how to address them despite the fact that it is a normal human experience. Women simply don’t talk about it and most physicians are poorly prepared to provide assistance or support.
Menopause is an issue of ageism. To reveal and request any accommodation because of menopause symptoms is to subject oneself to this bias. Ageism is a species of Diversity and Inclusion that is rarely addressed as such and the menopause taboo is a subspecies of ageism.
This year has marked a shift in the tide in the US and menopause is now becoming a more frequent topic of conversation in the media and among women’s groups. However, ageism especially gendered ageism is still an issue that is not being addressed in a way that is supportive of women as they age. This is still a frontier that needs to be explored.
Moving into their 50s, for many women, is a journey toward increased personal empowerment. However, the beginning of the journey is beset with some navigational challenges. Many women are still in the grips of perimenopausal symptoms yet for most women the end is in sight as the average age of menopause is 51. Perimenopausal symptoms can last for a while longer than actual menopause (one year after your last period), but they are usually waning.
Developmentally, this is a time when women begin to reflect on what life has been so far and wonder if they have accomplished all that they hoped or thought that they would. This time of deep self reflection is often accompanied by a lot of questions about being in the right place.This can mean looking at their level of passion and looking for sufficient levels of purpose and meaning in their career and other aspects of their lives. Alo, this can be a time when some women experience their own personal/professional midlife “crisis” in that they feel that they want to or need to make a move but have no real clarity about what that move should be. Mistakes can be made during this time and it is a good time to see the counsel of a close friend or to engage the services of a coach who can help you gain the clarity you need to move forward with confidence.
Careers can be very fulfilling at this time as often reached the pinnacle of their careers. As women move into their late 50s, they are usually feeling on more solid ground. Many women will take big steps, concrete steps toward feeling greater purpose and meaning. If women have had children, they are usually launched by this time leaving women with more time to focus on what they truly want professionally and personally. If that isn’t fully happening career-wise, many women add creative pursuits or volunteer opportunities that are meaningful and fulfilling. In the workplace, many women derive deep satisfaction from mentoring and sponsoring younger colleagues. This is no time for ageism to deprive the workplace of the life wisdom and institutional knowledge that women hold.
Here are some pro-tips on dealing with ageism in the workplace:
- Know your value and be able to articulate how your skills contribute to positive business outcomes. Be proud of what you have accomplished and be able to detail your track record with your current or prospective boss.
- Network across generational networks. Developing good relationships across the generations can go a long way to being seen as relational, valuable and relevant. You have a lot of institutional knowledge and earned wisdom - these are very valuable in the world of work. Sharing this knowledge and wisdom with younger colleagues will help you to nurture trust and influence. You will also be able to keep up to date on current trends and technologies through some reverse-mentoring.
- Always manage up well!
- Be sure to challenge your own assumptions and biases about age. If you think you are “old” you are likely to look, act and sound old. You are not old - don’t hold yourself back!
- Also, it doesn’t hurt to know your rights when it comes to possible age discrimination - just in case ;).
Women in their 60s are often both vibrant and elegant. Wisdom is in vogue now, so 60 year olds should glow in the workplace and in other areas of their lives. It is time to enjoy this stage of “Individuation” when women accept all of who they are and kick to the curb anything that doesn’t fit. It is time for women to appreciate all they have accomplished and to accomplish some more with purpose and passion!