PRiME Women: women’s career challenges and choices by the decades
How does work change in your 40s, 50s, and 60s? With more women re-entering the workplace and/or staying there longer, women are looking for ways to make work more fulfilling. And they’re demanding the respect and leadership positions their knowledge, education, and experience merit.
Our regular guest blogger, Barbara Mark, PhD, takes on the question of how women can plan for the rest of their career (or the new one they’ve just started) while dealing with aging parents, perimenopause and menopause symptoms, and the consequences of impulsive midlife decisions.
This article first appeared on PRiME WOMEN and is reprinted here with permission.
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.
PRiME Women: age, and work
First, some good news: 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, with women representing the fastest-growing age-gender segment. In less than a decade there will be twice as many older women as women aged 16-24.
This becomes important as women in their 40s look at long-term career planning.
Our often-conflicted 40s
Women in their 40s are in a stage of personal and psychological development that includes moving away from depending on others for approval and permission and making important career decisions independently. 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” which can feel 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:
First, 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 both kids and parents may require care.
Second, it is during this decade that women typically begin to enter perimenopause and experience the accompanying array of symptoms. For some women 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. You can find resources at the North American Menopause Society. Also, there are several online menopause support solutions – one of my favorites being Gennev.
Don’t dread menopause – learn the reasons to celebrate this time in your life.
“Sandwiched” and symptomatic, many women in their 40s consider starting their own venture to provide more freedom and flexibility. These 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.
Our empowering 50s
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 or need to make a move but have no real clarity about what that move should be.
Mistakes can be made during this time, so it’s a good time to seek the counsel of a close friend or engage a coach. Often the best choice is to sit tight and wait until you have gotten the clarity 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 they’re in the environment they want to be in.
If those things aren’t true, 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.
Some Pro Tips are:
- 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.
- 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.
- Always manage up well!
- Be sure to challenge your own assumptions about age. You are not old – don’t hold yourself back!
- Also, it doesn’t hurt to know your rights when it comes to possible age discrimination – just in case ;).
As 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, 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.
Our vibrant 60s
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 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 let’s be honest: mature women are solid gold for the workplace. By this time in their lives, they have a treasure trove of experience and well-honed interpersonal skills; they handle stress and problem-solve well.
Women in their 60s are loyal, reliable and wise. Some women will want to move toward non-profit opportunities to gain a feeling of purpose and meaning and bring all of the attributes acquired with age and experience that they share 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.
Are you still in the workforce, back in the workforce, considering a new job? We’d love to hear about your experience. Ageism, expectations, menopause symptoms – give us the full scoop by leaving a comment below or reaching out to us on our Facebook page or in our closed Facebook group, Midlife & Menopause Solutions.
Have you taken our Menopause Assessment?
Join over 100,000 women to learn more about your symptoms and where you are in the menopause journey.