Two years ago when my fabulous friend was in her late 40s, she received a call from her supervisor, on her way to work, asking her to head straight to her office on arrival. My friend called me because she feared bad news and anticipated that she may be let go. She was right. She was made redundant, and the reason they gave did not make sense to her – her role was pretty unique to the team, and she was always very busy. However a junior, almost half her age had started recently. This younger employee was very good at sucking up and soon became very likeable to those to whom it mattered. My friend suspected she had been forced out, to make way for the younger woman. She was right.
This is not an unfamiliar story, and at the time, I wondered if it had more to do with the company’s finances i.e. younger = cheaper (which is still ageist by the way) than it had to do with direct ageism. Even though this happened only 2 years ago, at the time, it didn’t occur to me that ageism, in your 40s was happening. Why would it? We are still young, 25 years or so away from retirement age with still a lot to offer.
It’s easy to see how this may happen at the recruitment stage, but more difficult to fathom when you have been in a role for many years have been doing well.
In your 40s, you are likely to have gained considerable experience not just from the job you are doing but experiences gained outside the workplace. You bring maturity, reliability, as often, (though not always), any childcare issues are under control or no longer exist, and a work ethic beyond that possessed by any 20 year old . What’s not to love about these credentials?
Few, if any employees in their 40s, feel they are over the hill, and if they do feel this way, there is a question as to whether they are in the right job. Certainly for me, I still feel energised, ambitious and have a lot to give. At 40 you are not old, far from it, and it’s an age when you can fit in easily with those both older and younger than you, probably more so than any other age bracket.
I was happy to reassure my friend that with all the experience she had gained over the years, it would only be a matter of weeks before she found something. I was wrong. In the 9 or so years that she had been working, the world as she knew it had changed, all job opportunities were targeted towards young graduates, even those jobs which previously did not require a degree.
My friend had started off her working life as a legal secretary and had gained her experience training under a youth training scheme (remember those?) and then on the job. Over the years, she worked her way up become PA/paralegal to CEOs of multi national companies. Now it seems that organising and managing diaries require not only a degree, but expect that you should now be PA/secretary to at least 4 people and all for £25k.
This may be achievable if you are in your 20s living at home, or flat sharing, but not so easily achieved if you are in your 40s with a family, especially if you are a single parent. That was the salary my friend was earning when she was just starting out and working for no more than 2 people.
The world had become one where employers want a great deal for very little and where mature experienced women were being forced out. Perhaps that had always been the case and I was lucky enough not to have noticed.
This is quite scary. If it’s so difficult to find a role when you’re in your 40s, what on earth is going to happen if we have need to look for a job in our 50s?
My friend’s experience has been a wake up call for me not to be complacent, and to be alert to changes in the workplace e.g. if there is a whiff of potential job losses, give yourself time to look around for another job and be ahead of the competition.
This is a situation I have found myself in recently. Next year, my firm is likely to lose one of its biggest clients, and although my firm is working hard to restructure things to deal with this eventuality, to my mind, redundancies at some point, are an inevitability. With good old fashion ageism at play, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that I, as one of the oldest and more expensive in the team, will be the one to be given her P45.
Other firms that share the same client will be in the same boat, so my tactic has been to start my job search ahead of time and ahead of the competition. The experience has been daunting – its awful having to sell yourself to an employer and I am now 7 years older than I was when I last had to do this.
It’s been a while now since an employer has been prohibited from asking a candidate to put their date of birth on their CV. However it is possible to glean someone’s age from other information such as the dates you attended school/college/university so I left all of these dates out and focused on my experience.
I had one recruitment agent (he seemed to me to be about 12 years old – therein lies another problem as to who we rely on to help us get a job ) asking me to put these dates in my CV. I refused and he didn’t put me forward for the roles. However, my only what you need to know CV, has got me a number of interviews, and this week a job offer (yaaaay), and it’s taken 5 months. Sometimes it just takes getting a foot in the door to give you the opportunity to wow an employer with your fabulous self.
You are 40s and fabulous, a rejection is their loss – never give up hope x