Simon is on a panel this week for the inaugural APSCo Conference to discuss how diversity and inclusion is closing the talent gap, and the opportunities in untapped talent pools from diverse workforces across mature aged workers, indigenous peoples, people with disability, and women in tech. It’s an interesting and timely topic.
Just this week on Q&A there was discussion about the Federal Budget and the initiatives for women. There was a particularly heart-wrenching question from an audience member, a woman in her 50s, who had experienced divorce, poverty, unemployment and homelessness (in that order).
And it’s not the first time the government has been criticized for a budget that largely ignores women’s issues. 2020 was practically a repeat, with stories like this one from the Guardian again sharing the plight of older women sliding into poverty, languishing on Centrelink for the years prior to being able to access the pension, being required to undertake compulsory volunteering and suffering poor health with little ability to make significant change in their lives.
At the same time, women in mid-life are demanding to be heard and seen. Take a quick look at Twitter or Instagram and you will see us, advocating for more information about menopause, talking about sex and sexuality, and raising awareness of the double whammy of ageism and sexism (hit me up if you want suggestions on who to follow).
Today I came across an interview with Bonnie Marcus, the author of “Not Done Yet!: How Women over 50 Regain Their Confidence and Claim Workplace Power”. And it initially made me irritated.
The advice to women was pretty much along the lines of ‘be more confident’, ‘value yourself’, ‘talk more about your successes’ and ‘know your value proposition’. Now, I haven’t read the book, just the interview. So I admit that sometimes these things can take authors out of context. But it seems to me that this squarely puts the responsibility for tackling structural ageism, and gendered ageism back on the people who are being directly affected by it. And that’s not only unfair but also an impossible ask. It doesn’t matter how confident I am of my value if I can’t even get an interview because of my age. Or if ageist stereotypes hinder my progression, or if my industry doesn’t value people over 45.
A great first step for workplaces is to widen our idea of diversity to include age-diversity. Intergenerational workplaces naturally challenge ageism. Start thinking about your hiring (and firing) practices – are you bringing on people from a range of backgrounds, abilities and ages? Are your practices inherently biased? What could you do differently?
Don’t get me wrong, the book’s advice wasn’t really all bad. It is good to know your own value and not internalise ageist tropes that define anyone older as unproductive, expensive, hard to train and tech-challenged. It is worthwhile maximising your chances in a competitive work environment. Being on the receiving end of ageism can be demoralising and a huge blow to your confidence. And it’s true that thinking negatively about yourself can affect your longterm health and of course, how you feel about yourself in the workplace and subsequently, how others see you too.
But it still irks me that confidence is marketed to mid-life women as the way to tackle built-in ageism and sexism. Especially when we’re likely to be the ones who are supporting and nurturing our children, their children, our parents and our partners, this advice just rubs me the wrong way. Women are much more likely to downplay their skills and abilities. So perhaps the advice should be to just resist the urge to downplay and cultivate the ability to present yourself as totally awesome!
If this topic is of interest, Simon and the panel will explore this and more at the conference. Check it out.