“I don’t want to be irrelevant!” It’s a battle cry being taken up by women around the globe. And it’s changing the employment market.
If you haven’t got yourself addicted yet, do yourself a favour and watch the Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin Netflix hit, “Grace and Frankie.”
Like any great comedy, there’s a whole lot of truth of truth buried in the laughter. Far from being stereotypical”old ladies,” Grace and Frankie are complicated, intelligent, flawed and extremely capable. Through these two dynamic characters, the series takes aim at the treatment of “older” women. How they are seen (or not), how they are treated and how they treat themselves.
In one stand-out scene, the two main female characters (both 70-something women) try to get the attention of a supermarket cashier. While he is captivated by a young blonde customer, Fonda and Tomlin’s characters stand at the other counter making increasingly desperate efforts to be noticed. They begin by politely clearing their throats and end up screaming hysterically and stealing cigarettes.
It’s TV gold – recognition of something that has long been happening to women. With their childbearing days behind them and youthful skin a thing of the past, women are finding themselves increasingly invisible and in danger of disappearing altogether. Jane Fonda’s character, Grace, gave voice to millions of women around the world when she screamed: “I refuse to be irrelevant.”
Historically, women over 50 have been mistreated by the marketplace. A study that came out several years ago by economists at the University of California found “robust evidence of age discrimination in hiring against older women.” There are plenty of stories of women marginalised by younger bosses and statistically, it seems that it is far easier for men over 50 to get jobs than for women. You can read more about that here).
It’s always been bad news but the tide, it seems may be turning. There is mounting evidence that there is a social change coming, with statistics indicating that there’s lots of good news about how women are ageing.
Just take a look at Lisa Wilkinson. Controversially Lisa quit Today in Australia last week after a long-term dispute over pay disparity and in less than 45 minutes announced a new gig on The Project. A veteran journalist and professional, Wilkinson knows the value of her skills and her experience and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she was worth.
There have been a million articles on what this means for pay equity but it also sends a powerful message to the world about the enormous value of women over forty in the workplace.
And Lisa isn’t alone.
The generation of women who right now are approaching 50, 60 and 70 are not planning on going quietly into the night like women before them were expected to.They are starting businesses, joining boards, getting promoted and generally making a ruckus.
Take a look at the changes in how women are being presented in the entertainment industry.
The BBC saw the writing on the wall when they controversially cast the next incarnation of Doctor Who as a woman. (Okay so Jodie Whittaker isn’t quite 40 but neither is she a breathy 20 something.) Power doesn’t get more powerful than a Time Lord in a tardis.
Marvel Comics are also getting with the program. Hot on the heels of Wonder Woman (one of the highest grossing movie this year) is the latest Thor instalment in which 48-year-old Cate Blanchet kick Chris Hemsworth’s butt all over the universe.
Fictional characters – sure. But there are also lots of powerful women in real life who are kicking butt.
Looking for another strong woman who is over 40 who knows her value and isn’t afraid to stick to her guns? Reece Witherspoon got tired of the lack of movie roles with women in the lead. So she set up her own production company which has made her a Hollywood power player.
A recent article in the New York Times by called for a mobilisation against ageism the way sexism was mobilised against in the 1960s and ‘70s. The article’s author, Ashton Applewhite says that for movements to have power, their members have to embrace the thing that is stigmatized, whether it’s being black, loving someone of the same sex, or growing old.
That means she says, moving from denying ageing to accepting it, and even to embracing it.
So what does that mean on a personal level? For you and for me. The ones in the trenches. Working to get promoted. Working to get an interview.
I spoke with some of the women at the forefront of this revolution and asked them exactly that. What can women do on a practical level to stand up and be counted? Here’s what they said.
Cindy Joseph – Boom by Cindy Joseph
The poster child for this new revolution of women is 60 something-year-old Cindy Joseph. At 49 years old and after a long career doing makeup for the stars, Cindy was approached by a talent scout and asked to model for Dolce and Gabbana.
As she puts it she was “under 5 foot 8, my hair was grey. Hello! I had crow’s feet. She wondered if it was a joke. It wasn’t.
It turns out that it was starting to dawn on some brands that older women were in command of big budgets and that if they wanted to get their hands on that money they were going to have to talk directly to their target market. Boomer women spend 47 Billon dollars on fashion.
Fast forward 10 years and Cindy has taken it one step further – creating a cosmetic line that she calls pro-age.
According to Jacobs, all kinds of women – baby boomers and Millennials alike are starting to celebrate their age and be proud of their life experiences.
“Let’s embrace it to the point where we actually celebrate it,” she says. “We walk out into the world with our crow’s feet and our age spots and our silver hair and our turkey necks and we carried them proudly.”
Rachel Lankester – theMuttonClub.com
On the other side of the Atlantic, Rachel Lankester is directly challenging the old stereotype of “Mutton dressed as lamb” with her online community “The Mutton Club”.
There are not many words that politely describe women over forty. “Cougar doesn’t exactly make your heart flutter,” Rachel says. “What about “Old Maid?”
So I started the mutton club as a place where we could talk about issues that matter to us.
Here’s Rachel’s take on how women are reclaiming their careers later in life.
“When we’re done making babies, we’re ready to make solutions. It’s what we do!
Older women also own or directly influence a vast proportion of the wealth of the population. We’re more confident and capable than ever. We deserve to be taken much more seriously!
I know many women in midlife and beyond finally following their dreams having previously lived mostly for others. Many are branching out on their own in business rather than having to face workplace sexism and ageism – an insidious combo.
In the UK, Barclays bank reported a 67% increase in women over 55 opening business accounts. I think the time has finally come for women in midlife and beyond to fully step into their power and be the positive agents of change our world so desperately needs.”
Cindy Ball – SecondHalfFull.com
“It’s not too late!” is the rallying cry for the mid-life women in Cindy’s courses and coaching programs. As a four-time entrepreneur and a Certified Life Coach (trained by Oprah’s go-to coach, Martha Beck) she helps women (mostly the 40 plus crowd) break through their fears and take their own big ideas from passing fantasy to fulfilling reality.
According to Cindy, new brain research and imaging shows that our brains continue to grow new cells throughout our lives. It really isn’t too late and science proves it!
“This process is called “neurogenesis,” she explains “and it’s a middle-aged gal’s BFF. Not only can our growing brains help us to continue to learn new things, but we can also improve our thinking, create new memories, improve cognition and use our years of experience, wisdom and general understanding of how the world works to create things that we would never even have considered in our younger years. “
“Every day I see more and more women who would have once been considered “over the hill” stepping into their power at mid-life and starting new careers, creating products, launching movements – it’s wonderful to see women realize that they can succeed at any age.”
Grey it seems might be about to become the new black. And for women everywhere, it might be a great time to dust of your c.v., get on LinkedIn and apply for that job.
Kathy Wilson from www.elitereputations.com gets women headhunted. She knows that starting a job search can push everyone single, insecure button you have and she has a plan for you to follow that is simple and easy and will get you a new job in 4 weeks or less.