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How to Stay Relevant in the WorkPlace: 3 Perspectives from Over-40 Women
By Holly Caplan
Turning 40 can be hard for women. It is a defining moment. It’s a moment that lets you know you have officially arrived at middle age and there is no turning back to your younger years. Your 40s is the time when wearing high heels starts to hurt like a mutha and that damn muffin top may be more visible. People will refer to you as “ma’am”, and you aren’t offended. Well, I’m not offended.
I actually found turning 40 liberating. I felt like I had earned every mistake, every success, every life changing moment. I became much more comfortable in my skin knowing that I was just me. (Sigh) I lost the fear of not succeeding and not pleasing everyone, and as a result, found more confidence in who I am. Yet, even if we as women continue to grow and feel our inner selves shine, how are we perceived into the working world? Even though we may see ourselves as an asset, mentor, contributor and leader, how do others view us? Does being over 40 in the workforce change how we are viewed, received and appreciated? How do we keep our edge?
In writing this article, I knew how I felt about this topic. I am well into my 40s now, (just two years shy of 50 actually), and could certainly rely on my own thoughts, but in order to get a well rounded perspective I decided to focus group a set of girlfriends. I’ve got to say, I didn’t expect the wide spectrum of input I got on this topic. Some of their input came from a place of fear, some from a place of confidence.
Perspective #1: Prove Your Flexible and Coachable
The very first response I received from a friend broke my heart a little. When I asked her what she felt she needed to do to stay relevant and keep an edge in her competitive, male-dominated field, she said she continuously needed to prove she was flexible and coachable. She had heard in her office that women of a certain age were viewed as reluctant to change, less aggressive and less desirable. As a result, she has found herself less vocal in challenging situations, as she doesn’t want to be seen as difficult. She wants to be seen as flexible and compliant. I understand that it is important to be fluid and open to change and direction in the workplace. Any workplace. What bothers me is that despite her experience, years of success and all of the wonderful things she has to offer, she feels that being silent helps her keep her job. I get it. I have been in her shoes. What she speaks of is a primary example of gender and age bias. Despite the increasing awareness of these topics, this example reveals that changing mindsets will take time, and will still be somewhat painful along the way.
Perspective #2: Embrace Motherhood
Let’s switch gears to another friend from the focus group. She felt that her hardest years were not in her 40’s, but in her 30’s. In her 30’s she became a mother of two kids. Mothering was just an addition to her skillset of all of the many fabulous attributes she possesses. Yet, she said her colleagues and clients didn’t take her seriously when she became a mother. She said it was assumed by both women and men, that her focus had shifted and priorities had changed. They expected her to go soft and be less of the tiger that she is. This is what frustrated her. If anything, becoming a mother, made her tougher. She felt that with the experience of mothering and working, her 40’s she gave her an undeniable groove. A groove with an increased threshold for work stress, challenges and strategic thinking. At this point her life, she pretty much dares anyone to challenge her edge and is uber confident in her skills and future in her 40’s.
Perspective #3: Understand “You vs. Millennials” Regarding Technology
The last friend I will write about from the focus group spoke on the difference between 40-somethings and the millennials. She is in her mid 40’s now and knows that her work ethic and tenacity is as strong as ever. She doesn’t mind rolling up her sleeves, staying late and putting in extra hours at home. In addition to her full time job, she started her own film production company, which is her new “side hustle”. However, she does fear the fact that those of a younger age have an edge with their technology savvy and knowledge of how to use it to propel their careers. Does she SnapChat? Nope. Does she post every moment of her life on Instagram or Facebook? Negative. Does she use technology as her vehicle to success? Not primarily. Again, she relies on her experience, knowledge and human connection for attaining and gaining clients or deals. She relies on her unending desire and passion for her job.
Holly’s Conclusion on How to Stay Relevant In The Workplace
All in all, I got three different responses from these women on how to stay relevant in the workplace. What I think I learned from each of them is that it is all in how we handle it. We will all be presented with different levels of frustration in the workplace as we age. We will all face age discrimination, younger employees competing for our space and understanding advances in technology. It is inevitable. So, to include myself in this focus group, what do I think? I think in our 40’s we do need to stay on our game when it comes to technology. We have do have to be in touch with the latest app, software program and whatever else is coming. This will give us an edge and show that we are connected and forward thinking. I also think we need to find like- minded individuals in our companies to provide each other support and a network as we mature. But, outside of this, I think we need to know our worth and be vocal about it. After all, we aren’t 80 yet. We are just hitting our stride, and this is how we need to think, even if others don’t.
Ultimately, we have a bigger responsibility. That responsibility is to create the roadmap for the generations coming up behind us. As it stands right now, women make up 47% of the workforce, (US Labor Force, 2017), and more and more are entering everyday. Think about it. The generations before us were faced with different challenges and decisions – “Should I make his cocktail first or cook the rice?” Our challenges are different and we have to set an example. We can’t fear being silenced. We can’t fear being surpassed. We certainly can’t fear the boy’s club. We have to be vocal, decisive and confident with colleagues and our human resource partners. We still have to fight to be heard, revered, and respected as women. There is no one single pill to resolve the workplace battle in our 40s. It is a process, and an on-going battle. But the battle is worth it.
About The Author
Holly Caplan is an award-winning manager and author of Surviving the Dick Clique: A Girl’s Guide to Surviving the Male Dominated Corporate World. For more information, please visit, www.hollycaplan.com.
Buy Holly’s book on Amazon.com
Surviving the Dick Clique: A Girl’s Guide to Surviving the Male Dominated Corporate World