'I'm Not Done Yet!' — An Expert's Work Tips for Women Over 50
Author and executive coach Bonnie Marcus shares advice, partly from her own experience
Boomer women are "on pause" and thinking about quitting, according to a recent LinkedIn survey of 1,000 female professionals. Almost half (49%) of working women between 57 and 74 say their career is on pause (more so than Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X).
And the boomer women's conviction about their value to their team or employer is waning — 88% felt confident before the pandemic, 70% do now. Understandably (speaking as a woman in this age cohort), they're worried they wouldn't find another job if they were out of work.
"Ageism goes across both genders, right? But women face this double whammy of both gender bias and ageism."
This is gloomy stuff. And they're precisely the kind of findings that infuriate outspoken executive coach Bonnie Marcus, author of the new book, "Not Done Yet!: How Women over 50 Regain Their Confidence and Claim Workplace Power."
"Not Done Yet! is a book for all working women over fifty who are dealing with aging and the bullshit ageist assumptions and stereotypes that keep us small," Marcus writes.
I spoke with Marcus to hear more about her insights and advice. Highlights of our conversation:
Kerry Hannon: How can women over fifty succeed in the workplace today?
Bonnie Marcus: I think it's important to reconnect with the value that you bring to your organization, your team and your manager. When you understand your value proposition, that allows you to authentically position yourself in the workplace as somebody who can help that organization move forward to reach their objectives. And it gives you a lot of confidence that you contribute, and you are valuable.
You should raise your hand, offer your opinions. That's where to start.
How do you define 'gender ageism' in the workplace and why did you want to write about it?
Ageism goes across both genders, right? But women face this double whammy of both gender bias and ageism.
The fact is women are still paid less than men. They still lack equal opportunities for advancement. So that has been an undercurrent for women over 50 for their whole careers.
But now that women start to show visible signs of aging as they approach fifty, sixty and beyond, they're viewed through another lens, which is ageism, and because of the emphasis on looks or 'lookism.'
We face both gender bias and ageism, and we do that earlier than men.
I think gendered ageism is under the radar and we need to build more awareness, similar to the way we built awareness around sexism with #MeToo.
You say women have to 'own their age.' What do you mean?
There's all this emphasis on being young that we don't own our age in terms of what we have achieved over the course of our career and the value in that. We downplay it.
We have valuable insight and opinions that can be learning experiences for everyone else in the workplace.
"We start to internalize that maybe we do have less value, that we're irrelevant, that we are too old to be promoted or to get a raise or we need to look young to be successful."
You write that you lost out on a promotion at forty-nine, so you left the company. What did you learn from that experience and what do you want other women to know?
I think the major lesson I learned is: Don't let one experience like that sideline you. That was devastating for me, because I had worked for that company for eight years and I knew I was the most qualified for the job and promotion.
But I didn't take it personally because I owned the value that I brought to that organization. I owned my success there and realized that I could still offer a lot to another organization.
How do workplace beliefs some women hold in midlife work against them?
We start to internalize that maybe we do have less value, that we're irrelevant, that we are too old to be promoted or to get a raise or we need to look young to be successful.
And when we really believe those things, they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You stop bothering to prep for meetings or raising your hand to volunteer for special projects. You don't end up doing what you need to do to stay in the game.
If you tell yourself that you'll never get another job, that can influence your chances to get a job.
What should women be doing to counteract that?
The first place is to identify what beliefs you hold. Take a good look at them and reframe them. Write your current story. What's the story you tell yourself about yourself? Don't put on any kid gloves. And then, take a look at that story. Does that story serve you? Or does it, in fact, sabotage you?
Chances are, there are parts of it that won't serve you. We don't realize how damaging that can be.
Rewrite a powerful new story that's going to support your success. You can read that aloud every day. You can create positive affirmations from that story, but words matter. And the words we tell ourselves about ourselves become our reality.
You write that some women give their power away at work. How does that happen and how can it be prevented?
Keep a diary and make a note of what triggers you to compromise yourself or give your power away.
Can you give me an example?
One might be when a manager tells you to do something that you innately have an issue with or you see may be problematic and you just accept it.
We want people to like us. If we have a team that we're managing, sometimes we want that team to like us so much that we compromise what we know might be the right thing for the business.
And what's your advice for women who want to start a business in their fifties and in their sixties?
Absolutely do it. If you've got a passion and you've got a good idea, then follow it through. If you need to find other resources to help you, find them.
Age doesn't have anything to do with a good idea and starting business, as far as I'm concerned.
You were diagnosed with Lyme disease; how did that trigger a different mindset about your life and career?
That was a turning point in my life. I could barely move. I wasn't sleeping. I couldn't think straight. And I was just so achy and in such pain. I saw an infectious disease doctor and he said: 'You know, so you're tired and achy, have you thought this could be relative to your age?'
And I said to him: 'I'm sixty, but you don't know me. This is not who I am.'
I realized that the only way I was going to heal and the best way for me to move my life forward was not to try to control it. My whole career was all about taking control. I just had to accept where I was, and I started to journal, and I started to meditate. Being much more mindful was the result.
You write that women don't brag about themselves enough in the workplace and need to really advocate for themselves. How can women be better at this?
Probably the first thing we should do is not use the word, brag. It gets back to understanding the value you bring to your department, your team, your manager and seeing how your value can serve others and help others reach their objectives.
Use your value proposition to position yourself as a key contributor.
And keep a success journal. We lose the connection with all of our accomplishments — big and small.
It's really important to quantify the results of some of these successes on your resumé. As you're preparing the resumé, and you're looking at what you've achieved and the quantifiable results, it gives you a lot more confidence in the interviews — that's all about owning it.
Some women in their fifties and sixties feel invisible at work. How can women be more visible and why is that important?
Networking with people across the organization, and of all generations. This could also be growing external networks with former colleagues; they could be people you went to school or grad school with. They could be people that you've met at conferences or through social media that you've connected with from your industry.
What is the biggest takeaway you want women over fifty to take away from your book?
Own who you are and where you are at this point in your life and the sum total of your journey. Don't focus on a mistake or 'I lost that job,' but what have you learned about yourself?
I also believe that women, as they approach fifty and beyond in the workplace, need to be proactive. These are things we should be doing our whole careers. But now that we are showing signs of aging, we need to be more vigilant about doing it to stay in the game and at the top of your game.