One doesn’t get to be a queen at too young an age these days (except for the exquisite Rania of Jordan, who is the beautiful exception that proves this august rule).
So, as your eyes and ears in London’s Square Mile, I find my regal self clocking up my working decades and wondering just why the world is so damnably ageist about us females of stature. There are no female TV anchors on any prime time channel much over the age of forty, and I’ve cudgelled my brains trying to find any female wielding power in the professions who hasn’t had to sacrifice what passes for ‘normal’ life to get to where she is.
If you do have a ‘career break’ and dare to pop out a baby or two, it’s quite likely that you will be able to on-ramp afterwards, and that’s encouraging, given that in the past maternity was a death knell. Today, however, you can work your proverbial butt off when you get back in to work, but it will likely not be a long-haul journey. This is where sexism loses traction to ageism: It’s as though business thinks you’re past it when you’ve only just got back on track.
Naturally I got to thinking about my own regal experience of, erm, what’s politely called ‘middle age’:
- Since I turned forty (and even I started counting backwards from then) I have done the following:
- Run a marathon (New York. Doesn’t get any better than that);
- Climbed a mountain (Kilimanjaro. Ditto).
- Launched four teenagers into secondary/tertiary education without having managed to murder a single one of them, in spite of massive provocation;
- Carried on running a smallholding in the countryside/being a mom/wife/chief cook/laundress/nanny/chauffeuse/bank of last resort for small, impecunious people;
- Fought a household bank name through the High Courts for flouting its Data Protection obligations. In person. Without legal representation;
And much, much more.
Gee. Just writing all that makes me think I wouldn’t mind a quiet life. Unsure if I’d know what to do with it, but I wouldn’t mind a bit of a try. Perhaps in the form of a nice, full-time, fulfilling, paying job? I’ve been multi-tasking for decades now, and it’s become second nature. Now I’m not being woken every night by howling offspring, I’m calmer, more energetic, and, dare I say it, wiser.
So the point is: Age shall not wither us. I am far more organised and time-efficient now than I could ever have been in my twenties and thirties. This is because I have been there and done manic work/life imbalance, usually with a small person clinging to me at the time. It teaches you phenomenal focus.
Businesses are missing a trick when they dismiss (or fail to hire) mature talent. Look at the banks, as an example. If they’d had more mature workers who’d experienced more than one business cycle, d’you think they’d have piled all those eggs into the sub-prime basket? No. They wouldn’t. But if you look at the demographics of all the big research departments at bulge-bracket banks, I reckon the median age is thirty. Or under. Thirty-somethings are definitely spring chickens in a world where the older population is growing faster than its replacement.
This is a sexist remark: I believe women really are better at multitasking. My Consort is a brilliant analyst with a brain the size of the planet. But he can’t do more than one thing at a time without getting terribly stressed. Give him a scenario where he has to produce a report at the same time as feeding four under fives and emptying the dishwasher while de-flea-ing the dog (washing his hands included) is a recipe for meltdown.
Women just do it. Even if it means cleaning your teeth with the babe in a papoose while you sloosh out the shower and compose an article about Personal Injury Litigation all at the same time (I have done it, I promise). It teaches you to get priorities 100% ordered, and to make use of every nanosecond in every day. I know plenty managers who can’t do that…who are not hiring women ‘of a certain age’ in the numbers that you’d think they should.
So, when we multitaskers reach our post-baby years, where are we headed? We are so not ready for a rocking chair and the knitting that loomed over our grandmothers when they hit forty.
Employers should be beating a frenzied path to our doors. We aren’t going to go off and have kids all of a sudden. We’re reliable and unlikely to take sudden time off for chicken pox or the like. We’re uber-organised and hyper-efficient, and most of us have a good 20 years of decent work service still in us.
So why aren’t they clamouring for us? I must say it puzzles me massively.