The founder of Look Fabulous Forever, Tricia Cusden, has spoken about the discrimination older women face at work and has offered her advice on how to navigate the workplace.
Having interviewed a selection of individuals, the key issues that came up amongst older women are:
- Finding work
- Holding onto a job
- Being compared to younger people
- Subtle ageism disguised as “banter”
One of the interviewees, a senior Human Resources Manager, believes that she encounters ageism in recruiting managers who refuse to interview anyone who is (presumed to be) around 60 years of age. “They assume that older people are plodders, slow, winding down to retirement. They think that they’d find the work too much and wouldn’t fit in with the team. They also presume that every older worker is the same – computer illiterate and slow.”
If you’re finding it hard to get a role, there are some strategies to help you stand out in the workplace:
- Highlight your skills and experience – experience is your friend, and as an older person, you have more experience than others. Really highlight it on your CV and in any interviews that you really have seen everything!
- Use your network – use your network of supportive people around you to break into new jobs and get references
- Close your skills gap – if you feel like you’re falling behind on certain skills, seek out some training that will help you close that gap
Holding onto a job
Many older women have also had issues where their seniors have asked if they are considering retirement, even if they are in their 50s with no plans to retire. A senior teacher recalled a situation she faced:
“The new headteacher (female) started to make the older staff feel ‘vulnerable’ in their employment. I was one of the ones she was trying to ‘replace’. In our one-to-one meetings, she once asked me about retirement… when I was 59! She began to undermine my role and even told me that my senior position was ‘not permanent’. I involved my union at that point because my position was permanent.”
If you feel like you’re being pushed out of your job, then there are key things you can do to protect yourself:
- Know your rights – make sure you know your legal rights, and understand your contract to ensure you can’t be pushed out
- Record all conversations – if you notice a pattern of comments along the same line as this, take notes on all your meetings and ask for email follow-ups on all information covered
- Speak to your union – if things feel like they are getting out of hand, speak to your union for support
An NHS nurse with 41 years of experience who now works in community infection control has had to endure comments that she couldn’t be compared to a much younger team member ‘because her computer skills were not as good’ (an irrelevance for her job) and that she was ‘keeping a younger person out of a job.’
Many older people have dealt with comparisons to the younger people they work with, which are often not positive.
If you are facing comparisons at work, you can:
- Challenge the comparison – challenge the person who is making the comparison, and tell them how it makes you feel
- Focus on your own strengths – even if someone is a bit better than you at one thing, you’ll have your own strengths, so focus on the positives
- Learn from people around you – learn from the people around you, and make their strengths your strengths
Subtle ageism disguised as ‘banter’
Subtle ageism has been noticeable to some older people in the positive comments given to younger staff who were ‘refreshing’ and ‘enthusiastic’, whilst there was no such encouragement to older staff. Other people interviewed had also been hurt by “jokes” that make fun of people’s age.
To deal with the so-called, ‘banter’, you can:
- Set clear boundaries – make it clear what you are comfortable with, and ensure people around you understand what is appropriate
- Speak up if something upsets you – if someone crosses a line, let them know.
- Speak to your line manager about the culture – if this behaviour continues, speak to your manager about the issue – there may be training, or a culture change needed.
If you’re feeling the pressure of working as an older woman, you’re not alone. There are resources and groups you can reach out to for help and advice, such as Look Fabulous Forever’s Facebook group, Tricia’s Super Troopers, and other networks.
Find more information and future stories from older women in the workplace here –https://www.lookfabulousforever.com/blog/challenging-ageism/breaking-the-age-bias