Wise Women in the workplace

Zone senior content designer Turi Henderson-Palmer explains why older women bring a broad yet grounded awareness that can benefit everyone…

Creative Equals put together a strong slate of presentations for its RISE 2021 conference, giving much food for thought across the broad spectrum of experiences of race, gender, identity and ability. It was a lot to take in. I did a lot of listening, and I’m grateful I could be there.

However, even with stunning stats from Karen Boswell about how skewed the workplace (and architecture, and research, and basically everything) is against women, and the brilliantly funny interview with Caitlin Moran about her take on womanhood, I still didn’t feel totally represented. There was a lively and hilarious discussion in Caitlin’s interview about menstruation, motherhood and all things maternity, but the conversation only gave the barest nod to a topic that is currently very present in my life: menopause. More specifically, what it means to be a crone in a workplace full of maidens and mothers.

Around the same time as the conference, I read a Stanford School of Business article on a recent study about ageism in the workplace. While not specifically about women, it points out our culture’s focus on youth and the active — and, sadly, generally acceptable — discrimination against older people. When you add this to another cultural phenomenon of Women of a Certain Age being invisible, it all started feeling a bit personal.

I could bore you with a load of statistics about how awful it is for us Women of a Certain Age, but I’d rather not. The fact is, we’re not going away. We’re all working well past the traditional retirement age, partially because we have to, but also because we want to and, frankly, that’s good for your business. The benefits of having older women as part of your workforce, and especially your leadership, are many and valuable.

You can have a poke around the internet and find a host of articles about reasons why you’d want to hire and retain us, but here are mine:

Experience
Those of us just hitting our fifties have probably held a variety of roles in a variety of industries. We may have started in analogue but have shifted seamlessly to digital. We’ve had the opportunity to make — and learn from — dozens, if not hundreds, of mistakes. We’ve truly learned to work smarter, not harder, and we invest our energy efficiently where it will reap the most benefit. We’ve moved past needing to be people-pleasers, and just get things done.

Empathy
In the 70s and 80s we watched our mothers go to work in a man’s world and by the 90s we were doing the same. We have dealt with the sexism, the glass ceilings, the expectations, the lower salaries, the patronising tones, and we know the feelings those things generate in a deeply personal way. We know what it is to be young and to have ambition, creativity and professional goals and can foster those things in others. We make good listeners and mentors for people just starting out, or who are mid-career, or who are changing careers, or who are juggling careers and life. We don’t need to try to put ourselves in those shoes because we’ve worn them and, in some cases, worn them out.

Understanding
We’ve seen some things. We’ve had a lot of opportunity to view business and cultural changes over time, and our observations of individual fads, broader trends and basic human nature inform our insights and our choices. We’re able to see the forest and the trees and can offer the kind of perspectives that only longevity can provide. We get the importance of building relationships, the necessity for clear communication, and the powerful results that diversity at all levels brings. We’ve always had to be better, faster and more than our male colleagues and we bring all of that education and knowledge with us.

I should probably say something here about Ms Moran’s valid point about us also always having snacks to hand (low blood-sugar is no joke!), but I’ll end by saying that one of the most valuable resources you can have in your organisation is us — older women can bring a broad yet grounded awareness to your business that can benefit everyone. Wise Women can help you Win.

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