Now we can work longer, how do we manage the question of age? Do colleagues and employers see age as an advantage or a distinct drawback? And how do we view it ourselves?

It’s only in the last 12 months that I’ve begun to think about the impact my age will have on others. Getting ready to work with a group of 30 year olds recently, I was thinking very carefully about how to fit with their style. I knew I have a lot to offer purely because of my age and the experience that goes with that, but I also knew I needed to build rapport if I wanted them to engage – and that required me not to look like an ‘old fogey’.

short-hairstyles-black-women-a-passage-to-indiaself-published-and-proud--i-wrote-it-with-you-in-mind--november-2009-x43rl5tg I became fascinated to find out how other women are managing the challenge of age in the workplace, so we sent out our first Second Act survey. 72 of you responded – thank you!

The overwhelming response was:

   Yes, I do speak about my age in the workplace

   No, I don’t feel discriminated against because of my age

Brilliant! I was so pleased that only one out of the 72 working women experienced discrimination, so didn’t mention her age in the workplace. It was a pleasant surprise; I had expected more.

Some of the respondents are positively enjoying their age and the benefits it brings:

I am not ashamed at all to discuss my age at the workplace. I am proud about my age. I also get more listened to due to the “wisdom” of an “old” woman.

When you reach this age, you feel much more comfortable and empowered. Nothing to hide. I am happy where I am and my accomplishment in life. My father and mother had instilled in all of us self confidence and self acceptance, so it really does not matter. Besides I look younger than my age and much more mobile and active than women and men younger than me. Am very comfortable with my own skin.

I was “too young” for so long, so I find it very relaxing to be able to be my own age

A different question emerges

What great news! However, reading through the responses, I began to notice a theme that emerged alongside the positive approach to age:

It came through in a number of ways – censoring what we say; lapping up ‘compliments’ about not looking our age; comments that we are full of energy, despite our age.

It began to read as if age is fine – as long as we don’t look it or act it – whatever the ‘it’ might be. My guess is that we’re still working to the old assumptions about age. That at 60 I will be lethargic, old fashioned, opinionated, stuck in my ways, dismissive – insert your own adjectives.

And if we believe that ourselves, are we pre-empting a reaction? Do we collude with age discrimination by assuming we have to guard against it? Do we focus on looking younger, so that age won’t be a problem? And how careful are we about what we say, in order not to raise the question?

While I do speak honestly about my age, I also make sure all the gray is dyed away and that I project an energetic image. Essentially I make sure they think of me as being younger before I ever mention the fact that I have grandkids, etc

(I don’t experience discrimination,)…”probably only because I look younger than my years, and am regularly assumed to be in my ‘mid-career’ and up for doing things that perhaps I’m not any more, now my priorities have changed.

I purposely moved from software development into a role where experience matters. My corporate customers look to me to provide best-practice guidance when considering what will be a major software purchase.

“There are times when, for example, I would be careful about mentioning the age of my grandchildren, because people will do the math and draw unhelpful conclusions. Once clients are familiar with your work and you are being judged on what you deliver, it’s not a problem and I will be much more open”

So, just like me, other women are adjusting in order to manage the impact of age, either by changing roles or by making the effort to be ‘on trend’, look young, and stay fit so colleagues are put off the scent.

Which can lead to lovely affirming moments:

I feel quite chuffed when I get mistaken for being much younger, and it’s nice to see the odd jaw drop every now and then when they hear my real age.”

imagesI certainly understand that! Yet I now wonder if preening my feathers is in fact a collusion – in essence I am agreeing that my actual age is just not OK.

Trying a different approach

So I’ve been experimenting with a different approach. Rather than soaking up the compliment, I’ve started saying, “this is what 65 looks like these days”. I find it gives me permission to access my experience, knowledge, understanding and wisdom without censoring for any clues I might give away. And while others may still be surprised, they seem to carry on without being the slightest bothered and I hope they begin to change their mindsets about what aging means.

Maybe, it’s time to take action. To stop playing the game of ‘I don’t look my age’ and begin to promote how wise, dynamic and sexy we can be at the age we really are. It may not make much difference to us, but we could give a hand to our young women. So when they reach the big 50 and upwards, they are no longer apologetic, but just go for it in full view of a more accepting world.

What do you think?




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