By Erika Harrington
As a soon-to-be college graduate, getting ready to enter the workforce, I’ve got a bone to pick with baby boomers today that refuse to leave the workforce. You’ve had your fun, and now it’s my turn to know the joy of a steady paycheck, saved capital, and credit. And apparently you all are working longer because every generation gets healthier and healthier and live longer lives. Which is cool and all, but come on–can’t you enjoy your health in retirement?
Okay, okay. I know you don’t deserve all the blame. The economy and personal debt crises are making it difficult for you to leave the workforce even if you wanted to. We can all agree, regardless of age, that that is lame.
Now that I’m done with my typical “millennial whining,” I will say that I’m loving the new trend of unprecedentedly older women remaining in the workforce much longer than their predecessors. It’s a true sign of progress to see women, who in past generations would have been weeded out of their jobs because of domestic pressures, experiencing fulfillment at later stages of their career. This also adds an exciting new question to the conversation surrounding professional females: what is it like to be an older woman in the workforce?
Researchers Carol Atkinson, Jackie Ford, and Nancy Harding recognized the need to investigate this new demographic of professionals. They interviewed 51 year old HR Director, Flora, to ask about the rewards and obstacles of working in this stage of life. Let’s take a look at some of the aspects of her experiences.
For one, there’s mentoring. Flora explained that entering this stage comes with a great deal of uncertainty. She can’t look to older women in her life like her mother or friends, because she doesn’t know many women who worked this late into their life at all. That’s tough. Being a female in the workforce is hard enough at the start, but if women don’t feel like they have any mentors to look to for help in continuing their career throughout later parts of their life, they might not be motivated to keep at it. And a cycle continues–a cycle that limits the shelf life of our careers.
Then comes a crossover between ageism and sexism. The researchers also discussed the new environment that’ll be undoubtedly formed in the professional world as the number of older women working increased. This environment includes the overlap between sexism and ageism that older women would inevitably have to face. Flora, like many women, also took a break to tend to her family. Coming back with gaps in her career is an obstacle unique to older women.
The cringe-worthy questions have switched from “Do you plan on having kids? How are you going to balance that with this job?” to “Are you sure you didn’t fall behind during the time you took off for your kids?”
The beautiful thing is that women in their 50s and 60s are paving a new way that female professionals in the past have not. They’re dodging the loaded speech and breaking stereotypes so that maybe, just maybe, the next wave of ladies won’t have to.
So as a millennial about to enter the workforce, who is lucky to have so many women with 20+ years of experience in their fields, I would like to not only apologize from my sassiness earlier, but also thank you for being an example to look up to when I plan out my long term professional goals. Not only do you show me that I don’t have to cut my career short for any reason, but you show me what bravery looks like in a world of uncertainty.
Never quit makin’ that money.