Guest blog by Claudia Crawley (CEO, Coach & Cherie Blair Foundation Mentor)
When you hear the term ‘midlife woman’, what image springs to mind? An older, bespectacled woman with greying hair? If you’re influenced by stereotypes, (and most of us are), you’ll probably see her ‘in decline’, written off and past her sell by date. Nowadays when Western life expectancy is 80 plus, such views are likely to be out of step with reality. According to the Collins Dictionary, midlife or middle age, …’ is usually considered to occur approximately between the ages of 40 and 60’. Once midlife women (and men) were seen as ‘getting on’ and expected to retire from the dynamic social scene. Nowadays, they’re often involved in activities that their parents at that age would have shunned – e.g. Saturday night clubbing, shimmying on the salsa dance floor or working out with aerobics.
What do midlife women have in their favour?
And we mid-lifers have a lot going for us. From my experience of working with mid-life women both as colleague and coach, (and of course, I’m one too), I find we’re often more self-accepting, care less about how we are seen, have heaps of experience and related wisdom and are better able to see problems in perspective. Women on the mid-life scene often look back on their achievements and note their unrealised potential. And in the quest for Maslow’s high-level need, self-actualisation, they go in search of pathways such as re-training, a new career, setting up their own business. And note, more women are part of the current boom in over 50s start-up businesses. Behold, Louise Hay! Aged 60 when she set up Hay House the publishing empire. So what’s wrong with midlife women?
Imagine the benefits for organisations wrapped up in that mid-life package. But with the focus on youth, many organisations haven’t quite grasped the gains that women mid-lifers can bring – (witness ‘Strictly’s’ swapping of Arlene Phillips for a younger model whilst her male counterparts remained secure). And in the laudable and long overdue drive for gender equality and getting more women to the top, the focus is primarily on the under 40s. Without doubt, they have their merits, but they cannot compensate for the experience and talents of the midlife woman that are being consigned to the wheelie bin. Where would we be without the likes of mid-lifers such as Theresa May (appointed UK home secretary at the age of 54) and Christine Lagarde (appointed head of the IMF at the age of 55).
Getting on and up in midlife
If, as a midlife woman you’ve not scaled the heights of your company, organisational expectations are low - all down to barriers of age and gender discrimination. So when my former client, Liz, aged 53 and a long-standing public sector middle manager, out-shone her younger competitors in interview for promotion, the organisation was amazed – and so was she. When I coached her, part of her knew she could do it, but the other part wondered, like the organisation, whether she was too old and too late. When she began packaging herself in terms of the skills, knowledge and experience she brought to the table, she was able to take her seat there as a senior manager.
And then there’s Sam, a former colleague, a very experienced and settled front-line social worker, who was promoted to middle manager in her mid-40s and came into her own. She took a step up 3 years later and made it to assistant director at the age of 50. Nothing wrong with that mid-lifer!
Midlife women taking charge
Through my business, Winning Pathways Coaching, I regularly encounter midlife women who have so much to offer. Frequently, they’re quietly grafting away, knowing they can give more. But when they’ve been passed over for promotion or made redundant, many lose confidence and clarity about what to do next and how to get there. I help them take charge of their careers and do what needs to be done to get to where they want to go. Then there are my Page 1 Women TM, self-leaders, risk takers and successful in their own right – not because they are famous or millionaires, but because they are achieving great things despite their age. Often, they’ve traded in the security of employment alongside a status of invisibility to realise their full potential in their own business. Or they’ve made early career moves out of employment and have been running successful businesses for some time. What this shows is that for midlife women as it is for men, it’s never too late to realise your potential and you’re never too old to get there.
So what’s wrong with midlife women?
So, all of this begs the question, what’s wrong with midlife women? And the answer? Nothing. What’s wrong, is our mind-set rather than the women themselves. When we get over the limitations that stereotypes place on our thinking and we strive for true gender equality for all women, we’ll start to accept that midlife women are as capable as anyone else, deserve the same opportunities and deserve to be valued.
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