Hint: You have everything that you need to take back your power
Many women describe feeling invisible when they reach their 40s and beyond. We notice the effects of ageism, which coupled with workplace gender bias, has a disproportionate impact on women.
Did you notice when you had nothing in common with adverts?
Women become invisible in advertising from a relatively early age and some of the products aimed at us are frankly ridiculous. I read this great blog post which summed it up nicely:
“As soon as I turned 50, advertisers suddenly stopped telling me I should buy Chanel and started telling me I smelled of wee.”
It is huge mistake to ignore us and our spending power.
What happens in the workplace?
This article by Bonnie Marcus in Forbes describes how older workers are perceived: “Age related assumptions create the perception that older workers, especially women, lack the stamina, aren’t technically savvy, and want to slow down; they aren’t invested in their careers.”
No wonder it can feel like an uphill battle if that is what we are up against!
Men are said to age like fine wines, but what about women?
Many brilliant actors are side-lined when they reach 40, and younger women are chosen to play the roles. Female newsreaders are shuffled off stage left or moved to radio, while the men grow grey and wiser. Thank goodness for shows like “Big Little Lies,” which displayed the brilliant creativity of Lianne Moriarty and starred age-appropriate women playing strong female characters. I am a fan and enjoyed “Nine perfect strangers” too. You will never think of spa breaks in quite the same way again!
Then there is the elephant in the room of how value is attributed to our looks. When I was a young consultant anaesthetist, in my 30s, one of the male surgeons asked me: “What are you going to do when you are no longer belle of the ball?” We had just finished a challenging case, that had gone well. I was taken aback that he thought my looks had something to do with my ability and that age would diminish me. I had no idea that how I looked conferred competence privilege. An interesting conversation with my friends revealed that all my negative experiences were multiplied many times over for them: too brown, too Spanish, too short, too other…
Women are perceived differently to men when we start to get wrinkles and visible signs of ageing. If you happen to “look good” then there are many other judgements waiting to bite you on the bum:
“She looks good for her age”
“Do you think she has had work done?”
“She doesn’t look a day over 40″
“She’s brave to go grey”
“She has still got it”
They are all statements that take something away.
What about our hormones?
Some very real changes are happening with our hormones as we enter our 40s and 50s and experience peri/menopause. Menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period, and on average occurs at about 52. For some women this can happen much earlier either naturally or because of medical treatments.
I had no idea that some of the changes and symptoms started years before menopause. We did not learn about the effects of the hormonal changes, that half of the population will experience when I was at medical school. I mistakenly thought that hot flashes, osteoporosis, and heart disease were the main things to be on the lookout for when I got to my 50s and beyond. In hindsight my perimenopause started in my early 40s. I experienced crippling anxiety, poor sleep, and exhaustion, which all had an impact on how I felt at work. My self-esteem took a dive and with it went my confidence.
1 in 10 women leave the workplace, in the UK, due to symptoms of peri/menopause and this has a massive impact on the economy. Most of us would like to stay so that we can contribute to the cost of our care.
Fortunately, there are some brilliant resources available to help educate women and, just as importantly, men on what is happening and how to access support. The free Balance app is a brilliant place to start. Knowledge is power and with it comes choice.
What can you do to become visible?
I decided to turn this question on its head and asked myself:
“If you had an invisibility cloak (see Harry Potter) what would you do? Where would you go? What would it feel like?”
I scribbled down my answers and looked for themes. The key words that came up for me were:
Seek truth, safety, freedom, activism, access
Bottom line; I was going under cover, exposing lies, reporting the truth, and improving lives. All while going wherever I wanted without feeling unsafe.
“What are the disadvantages of wearing the invisibility cloak?”
My key words were:
Lonely, isolated, cannot speak up in the moment, clever ideas are lost, stressful to watch and not act, disincentivised, helpless
This is the essence of what it feels like to become invisible.
If you want to be seen again, you need to burn your invisibility cloak. Here are some tips to help you fan the flames:
Value yourself. You have valuable experience and have achieved enormous success.
Do NOT downplay your achievements. I was passed over for clinical excellence points at work and my feedback was “you did not blag enough on your application form.” I was initially furious then I got to work.
Listen to feedback. If someone tells you that you did an excellent job, believe them, and then quantify it on your CV (see 2)
Tell yourself better stories. If you internalise all the negative messages, you will start to believe them and slowly withdraw. Write down all the negative beliefs you have about yourself and then question their truth. Dump the lies and work on the truth.
Learn how to negotiate for what you want. There are some excellent strategies in Zoe Chance’s book “Influence is your superpower-how to get what you want without compromising who you are.”
Put yourself out there. Build relationships through networks. I have been amazed by the power of networking. Initially it felt awkward and well outside my comfort zone, but it improves with practice. It’s often not what you know but who you know.
Become a mentor. This is a two-way relationship, and you may gain as much from being a mentor as you give to your mentee.
Have an opinion and speak up. No one will hear your excellent ideas if you keep them to yourself.
Look at what you can offer elsewhere. List your transferrable skills and get creative. I thought all I could do was be a consultant anaesthetist. NOPE not true.
Create your own advisory board (mentor, sponsor, peers, allies). A brilliant piece of advice from a networking event I attended.
Share your success. I am rubbish at this but find myself constantly congratulating others??
Ask for help but be specific about what you want. You are more likely to get the help you need.
Are you stuck in your people pleasing “good girl” stories? You can’t please all the people all the time. Stop trying and set some boundaries.
Take risks. The worst thing that can happen is that you might fail. Then you learn.
Learning requires a growth mindset. Sign up for training opportunities and plug gaps in your knowledge. There is so much knowledge available at your fingertips but also no shame in asking for expert help.
Watch this YouTube video by Carla Harris (Another piece of advice from a networking event). She has some great “pearls” for “How to own your power.”
I am biased but consider getting yourself a coach. You will have dedicated time just for you to work on your answers and tease out what is stopping you.
Prioritise your wellbeing and put yourself at the top of your to do list. Sleep, exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, and looking after your health help to manage stress and the symptoms of peri/menopause.
I felt fed up, fat, and frumpy. I had no idea what suited me anymore or what to wear. If that is important TO YOU, then spend some money sorting it out. I had my colours done, so that I know what colours suit me, and then I sorted out my wardrobe. I have not spent a fortune on new clothes but have a better idea of what to buy. I bought some new makeup and braved bright lipstick. Yay!
Having a wobble is normal. (Go back to 1)
You do not need fixing but you do need to know about the unwritten rules for success. It’s time to level the playing field for us and the women coming behind.