Monday 10 December 2018

Employers, grow up! Middle-aged women are in their prime

Many middle-aged women find it difficult to find work
Many middle-aged women find it difficult to find work

Barbara Scully

There is that special moment when your teenagers leave in the morning on their way to school. The door slams and a sublime peace descends on the house, coming as it does after the shouting at them to get out of bed, the chaos of breakfast and the panic over mislaid sports kit or school shoes. Then there's the realisation that they won't be returning until late afternoon, also quite delicious.

The day your youngest makes the transition to secondary school that peace may bring with it an extra realisation, especially if you have been a stay-at-home parent. You now have a whole day stretching ahead. You won't be needed again till dinner time.

Suddenly you have 'me' time, although, unless you are very lucky, instead of spending a day at a spa, you will more likely consider getting back into the world of paid work.

It was just over five years ago that I came out of the dole office, got into my car and burst into tears. We were two years into this bloody awful recession and finding things very tough. But more than that, we were seriously worried about our future.

My husband is self-employed and his business had slowed considerably. I became keenly aware that I was a somewhat underused resource and with both girls in secondary school I thought that perhaps now would be as good a time as any to get back to work.

I'd had a very varied career to that point. From travel agent to PRO for a national charity, a job I gave up in 2001 when I 'retired' to look after my then young children and run our home. With my solid experience, I thought getting back to work would be reasonably easy.

It wasn't. I applied for jobs I was well qualified for. Not only were employers not interested in me, most of them weren't even interested enough to reply to my application.

I can only assume the problem was either my age - late forties - or the fact that I had been a 'housewife' for a decade. It was a sobering lesson and was why I took myself down to the dole office that August day. But because I had helped my husband with some accounts, my status was also 'self-employed' so I was entitled to nothing.

I had reached rock bottom. No job and no prospect of one. I had never experienced this kind of hopelessness before. It was crippling. I felt useless and powerless.

But once I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I realised that when you no longer have anything to lose, you are free to fail.

Slowly I began to dare to dream my way right out of reality. I toyed with the question what would I love to do as opposed to 'what was I qualified to do'. The answer was easy. I would love to do radio and I would love to write.

I sent an email to East Coast Radio and to my great surprise they gave me a chance. It made all the difference, although the first few outings to the Wicklow station were beyond nerve-wracking.

I joined Twitter and began to follow journalists, presenters and producers to try to get some insight into how media works.

I heard of the first Women On Air seminar and desperately wanted to go but found it near impossible to quieten the voice in my head that was screaming "don't be daft, who do you think you are?"

However, summoning courage I didn't know I had, I did go, although walking into that room full of female journalists, all of whom knew each other, was truly terrifying.

The voice in my head kept roaring at me to go home. But the women I met accepted me and my distinctly dodgy credentials. Writing was the same. Each time I submitted a piece to a newspaper I was too terrified to chase it up.

With each step forward I was convinced that I was about to get caught, exposed as a fraud, a housewife with notions.

It was genuinely petrifying. Having no choice but to keep going, I made my own work and I am very grateful for all those who gave me a chance.

Right now I know there must be lots of women probably in their forties or (God forbid) over 50, thinking of getting back to paid work, as yet unaware that they face two huge obstacles.

The first is ageism, which is alive and well in many workplaces - particularly in relation to women. The second is confidence. Believe you me, when you have spent perhaps a decade at home with children, a position that doesn't even have an appropriate title, your confidence seeps away.

But sisters, if this is you, take heart. You might be a bit saggy around the edges but you have all the talents you had before you became a 'housewife' and you have the added life wisdom.

Own your age and your talents. Confidence can be faked. It's scary but hey, by 50 you have been scared before and you survived. Oh, and you know that advice you often give your teenagers, about finding their passion? It's now time for you to find yours.

And employers - grow up. Middle-aged women are in their prime. Can you really afford to miss out on a great resource?

Irish Independent

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