Women’s lives are complicated in their 40s, 50s and 60s. As someone who researches professional women in midlife and is a long time executive coach to this population, I get an up-close and personal view of the experiences that women have – the good, the bad and the ugly. I am going to share what women typically face as they mature through this midlife period.
According to reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more women than ever are contributing to the American labor force and older women are being valued for what they contribute. This may come as surprising given the gendered ageism women experience. The BLS predicts that by 2024 nearly one in ten workers will be 55 and older representing the fastest growing age-gender segment and that there will be twice as many as women ages 16-24.
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 the second stage of midlife adult development called “Separation”. It feels liberating for many women.
This 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.
1. 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.
2. It is during this decade that women typically will begin to enter perimenopause and experience the accompanying array symptoms. For some women in the sandwich generation, it is a blip on the developmental radar screen and for others it is a nightmare! For the women for whom this is a nightmare, this is the time to connect with a menopause specialist. Also, there are several online menopause support solutions – this is one of my favorites.
Because of these two reasons, many women in their 40s consider starting their own venture to provide more freedom and flexibility. These sandwich generation women do need to be mindful that starting their own venture can come with its own challenges and should do their due diligence. It could be the keys to the freedom kingdom or an all-consuming nightmare of its own.
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 then 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. It is the third stage of midlife development called “Liminality” – being at a “threshold” of change. 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.
Also, 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 a coach. Often the best choice is to sit tight and wait until you have gotten the clarity that you need.
Careers can be very fulfilling at this time as often the level women have reached is the level they want to be at and are in they environment that they want to be in. If they are not, it is important to get some good coaching to look at making a transition. Because of the aforementioned gendered ageism, women need to feel confident and not get pushed to the side.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Always manage up well!
4. Be sure to challenge your own assumptions about age. You are not old – don’t hold yourself back!
5. Also, it doesn’t hurt to know your rights when it comes to possible age discrimination – just in case ;).
As sandwich generation women move into their late 50s, they are usually feeling on more solid ground and into the stage of “Reintegration”. This is a time of that empowerment I mentioned earlier. 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.
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. For women for whom this is not the case, grab a good friend and go visit nature, give each other facials, get a massage, go see Mamma Mia Here We Go Again or Book Club. It is time to enjoy the 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!
Women who have found their perfect career spot will enjoy taking on new challenges that keep them growing in ways that are fulfilling. Do keep in mind the “Pro Tips” noted above – women in their 60s shouldn’t under-sell themselves as they have such wide and deep institutional knowledge and experience to share. More women are working longer because they are vibrant and have no desire to move out to pasture yet. Many women need and want the financial security of working longer. And, mature women are solid gold for the workplace.
By this time in their lives, they have a treasure trove of experience, well-honed interpersonal skills, handle stress and problem solving well. Women in their 60s are loyal, reliable and wise. Some women will want to move toward non-profit opportunities to gain their feeling of purpose and meaning and bring all of the attributes acquired with age and experience that they do in other environments.
Women in their 40s, 50s and 60s are powerful and dynamic and are to be deeply valued by themselves and by their professional and personal environments. I encourage women to really enjoy this journey with gusto – bumps in the road and all.