As a 47 year old woman, I’m well aware of my fast-approaching 50th birthday and its possible consequences on my career.
Frightening anecdotal evidence from my peers tells me that women over 50 are less valued in the workplace and less likely to be hired, even in today’s tight labor market.
It piqued my interest then when I came across research that shows that companies that employ older women are in fact more profitable than companies that don’t.
One study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a survey of 21,980 companies (that’s a lot of companies) from 91 countries, found that having women at the C-Suite level significantly increases net profit margins.
That becomes even more interesting when you consider that the average age of a fortune 500 female CEO is 56.
Susan Weinstock, vice president of financial resilience programming for the AARP, the national nonprofit dedicated to advocating for those over 50, is familiar with the research. She says that older women benefit a business’ bottom line because they bring important skills to the workplace, like problem solving, empathy and remaining calm under pressure, that aren’t easily taught.
“We hear from employers that they can train workers for technical skills,” Weinstock said, “but these soft skills are what’s really important.”
Weinstock also said that older women make great mentors for younger colleagues, both male and female.
Yet, despite such strong evidence for the value of older women in the workplace, women over 50 are the target of a disproportionate amount of age discrimination compared to men, according to the AARP.
So, with that 50th birthday peering at me from just over the horizon, I wanted to hear more from professional women in the thick of it. I talked to three area women, all over 50, to get their perspective on older women in the workplace.
Dr. Ann Bieber, president, Lehigh County Community College
Here at LCCC, we have a diverse student body. There are teenagers and there are people in their 70s. A large number of older adult students helps ensure a diverse workforce out in the community.
As a woman over 50, I know my value. I have a history of experiences to draw from. When a problem comes along at work, I can draw on that experience and say, “Here’s a challenge we had. Here’s how we worked through it. Here’s what didn’t work.”
Older women are great networkers. We often have built strong relationships in our community.
We realize it’s not about a person’s age. It’s a person’s makeup that gives them value. It’s about skill sets.
Diversity of color, age and gender are all important. The workforce should reflect us as a society.
Genia Miller, female playwright, language arts teacher at Saucon Valley High School for the last 16 years.
I am 66 years old. I’m not planning retirement at this point although I am aware that I can’t work forever.
Aging women have been discriminated against throughout history. Since we live in a male-dominated society that values youth and a stereotypical sense of beauty, aging women are often discarded.
Yet we have a lot of life experience to take to a job. We often empathize more easily with others.
Women are used to being treated as underdogs. The underdog works harder to prove negative perceptions wrong.
Also, aging women often have more confidence and don’t worry so much about what others think of them.In any profession, personality and a sense of humor play a large part of acceptance. Our culture has been ageist & sexist forever. We all need to be tolerant of ingrained behaviors and patient with progress toward equality. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be vocal, keep marching, and expect change.
Gloria Domina, co-director of the annual Lehigh Valley Music Awards and owner of 13 Butterflies Productions, an Allentown-based music production company
I’m 65 years old and I’m not ashamed of my age. I can run circles around some people who are in their 20s. I’ve learned through my years in the workforce and in nonprofits that we can all make a change, regardless of age. I will work as long as I am healthy enough to continue.
Older women are valuable because we provide mentorship and role modeling. We have knowledge. A lot of businesses only see things through the eyes of men. That’s changing and we can help address that.
There are so many women who didn’t wake up this morning. I am lucky to be here. I shouldn’t be less than because of my age. I’m proud to be 65. I’ve raised my children. I’ve accomplished in my career. I used to lie about my age to get into clubs when I was young. I’m not going to lie about my age now.
We older women bring so much experience to the table. But really, you aren’t hiring my birth certificate, you are hiring me. I’m so much more than the year on my birth certificate.
More women need to come to terms with their age and who they are. Be true to yourself. If you can’t be true to you, how can you be true to anyone else?