For women over 50, working in corporate culture, I don't have to tell you that the struggle is real. If you've been on the receiving end of the "we're going in a different direction" conversation or are trying to get someone else to hire you after said conversation, you are well aware that age discrimination is real. I had never been laid off or harassed in my entire working life until I was in my 50s. At first, I didn't make the connection between these events and my age, until I started to hear similar stories from an increasing number of women. If you happen to be female and in an industry that places a high value on youth, which means anything in the entertainment, beauty, and tech, to name a few, old is out and if you're a woman of a certain age, so are you. So much for 50 is the new 30.
It's called aging out and while it's intimately related to the larger topic of age discrimination and our general bias toward adult adults in western culture, I'm speaking of the sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant depreciation of a woman's perceived value once she reaches her fifth decade. I'm not an expert in this area, nor am I a veteran of any of the glamour industries that routinely push women out once they reach a certain age, I am simply reporting what I have seen with my own eyes and heard in the stories of women I've worked with and known.
Several of them have worked in film and television, as news reporters and journalists, in the music industry, and in traditional publishing. Others have been employed by Fortune 100 companies in the beauty and fashion industries. The stories are surprisingly similar and my reaction to them is always the same. While I do agree that someone needs to stand up and champion the cause, someone with power and influence, someone with a platform, but for the majority of women, the solution to aging out of their industry is aging into something else. That something just might be the one thing that no one can take away from them or tell them they're too old for, starting their own business.
Think about it. Why let someone else, most often a man who is the same age you are or in many cases, considerably younger, tell you that you're past your prime? Maybe it makes sense when you're young to allow others to have that much control over your financial security and lifestyle. After all, when you're 27 and your boss is a jerk or your company's values don't turn out to match their values statement, you can just shove off and try your luck elsewhere. But, after 50? The pickings are a whole lot slimmer and you are a lot less likely to get what you're truly worth, financially speaking.
Older workers of both genders are typically the first to go during layoffs. The company cuts more from the bottom line by letting them go, simply because they are usually making more money than the younger ones. HR directors aren't allowed to tell you this, but a large number of older workers can jack up the cost of group health insurance too, so letting them go saves the company more than their salaries. And what you really aren't going to get anyone in corporate life to admit is this: women over 50 are more difficult to manage, and by manage, I actually mean control. By this age and stage, they know who they are and what they think and are more than happy to tell you, whether you've asked or not. Older, usually white male executives who are accustomed to getting their way are usually not too pleased when middle-aged women start speaking up and challenging the status quo. While this might make them popular with the company's younger female staff, those girls are not the ones signing the checks.
So, what's involved with aging in, and is it for you? I'd say the first thing to ask yourself is have you ever had the desire to work for yourself, whether as a coach, consultant, or freelancer, and did you ever follow that desire? Self-employment isn't for everybody, but it is entirely possible for anyone who really wants it. Another question might be, all other things being equal (income, working hours, professional growth, security, etc.) would you prefer to get another job or create something of your own? Do you have a reasonable number of connections in your industry that you could leverage to get the ball rolling if you decide to take the leap or do you have enough money saved to support you for a year if you decide to go in a totally new direction?
Are you a person who sees what needs to be done and takes initiative without being asked or do you need the accountability of reporting to someone else to make sure it happens? How about your social support system - do you have at least a couple of people in your circle that you can lean on, especially during the lonely, scary, early stages of doing your own thing? You could just take the leap, spring into action, and land on your feet, but most of us need at least a rudimentary plan. Some people are natural-born entrepreneurs, but many more of us can learn to BYOB ( Be Your Own Boss) with guidance and support, whether from a business coach, mastermind, or mentor.
I happen to be someone who believes it's never too late to be an entrepreneur, freelancer, self-employed professional, or small business owner. My first business was started in my mid-50s after my back-to-back layoff and harassment experiences. I pivoted several years later to start my second business in my early 60s. At an age when most of my peers are retiring or giving in to aging out, I am choosing to age in. I chose aging into being my own boss, signing my own checks, calling my own shots.
Sure, it's scary sometimes, lonely too, and occasionally I wake up in the middle of the night with the question "What the hell are you doing? on my lips. But, I've learned that just because I have fears and doubts, just because things don't always work out the way I want them to, just because my income goes up and down sometimes, instead of the steady, predictable paycheck every two weeks, I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Aging in has meant saying yes to me, instead of sucking it up and doing what someone else wants. Aging in also means that I am 100% responsible for the success, or failure I create. There isn't a boss anymore that I resent for the way I'm treated or the size of my check. Aging in has meant going "all in" on me, and it has been the hardest and most rewarding thing I've ever done. As much as I hated it at the time, I am actually grateful for the experiences that lead me to choose self-employment. If it hadn't been for the layoff and the harassment, I might still be allowing someone else to decide my value and living in fear that they saw me as a depreciating asset because of my age. I may be getting older in the eyes of the world and the eyes of my past employers but in my own eyes, I'm just getting started.