Today I deleted all my new emails. At least all of those that came from some of the many sites I had enlisted in my search for a new job opportunity. Sites like Indeed, Career Builder, Flex Jobs, Monster jobs, and more.
In the last year or so, I have talked to many friends, women who reside with me in the over 50 age group, most of them former professionals, all standouts in their respective fields. All of us can rightly claim to be smart, experienced, well-educated and accomplished. And all of us are un or under employed. We have all spent countless hours poring over each new job listing, doing research on each prospective company, reworking our resumes over and over with ‘key search words’ that an algorithm will find sexy, tweaking our letters to reflect the exact qualities as in the job posting.
Collectively, we have applied to jobs for which we are utterly perfect - we have the designated specialized experience, be it music publishing or graphic design, we have the skills, are great with people, and have tons of enthusiasm. Nothing. And that goes all the way across the job posting spectrum, from those opportunities that fall within our actual career path, to those for which we are over-qualified, to the ‘oh my gosh, I would have passed on this job 25 years ago when I was just getting started’ type.
The common denominator is that we are all women over 50 years old who cannot find a job despite wanting to work and being eminently qualified.
I must admit, it knocked me off my pins for a minute, the constant feeling of professional invisibility, especially as someone who is smart and hard-working enough to have gotten most of the jobs I sought during much of my career.
Seriously, how can it be that an entire group of qualified workers who are actively seeking employment seems continuously denied access to decent opportunities in their chosen fields? And can it really be true that once a woman in America, perhaps especially in youth obsessed Los Angeles, hits 50 years old and beyond, despite her many enviable attributes, she no longer has any employment value in society’s eyes? And where and how can we pool our power to effect the change for which we are yearning? It is too stupid, too wasteful, not to mention frustrating and unnecessary, to imagine that this is as good as this situation, this predicament, can get.
Clearly, we also need to address the many economic inequities that persist, including a lifetime of having been habitually undervalued, personally and professionally. We women still make only $.70 for every man’s dollar and on average retire with much less than our male counterparts. For example, according to a recent article on MSNBC, women still earn about 82 cents for each $1 earned by men. For men aged 50 through 64, median retirement account balances are nearly double that of women ($221,492 for men compared with $117,040 for women). And Social Security income is lower for women too, the average being $1,437 in 2020, compared with $1,824 for men.
These figures are daunting and too seemingly permanent, especially since we women often end up shouldering the majority of both childcare and elder care work, most of which is unpaid.
So where do we go from here? What else can we do with this large and growing pool of untapped talent, beyond many of us having started small businesses doing our ‘side hustles’? Is there not some agency, some resource that perhaps I have not yet discovered, that corrals all of us wanna-be’s and presents us with actual viable options? Friends and I have pondered the idea of starting something ourselves, an agency for 50+ women with amazing skills, but that is a daunting challenge requiring a serious investment of both time and resources.
I heard an interview recently where a 50 something year old man said that he knew that he was unemployable when he hit age 45. “I realized that I better become self-employed or it was over for me.” Ouch. Yet it bears the ring of truth. And that is for a man, who inherently has countless social and economic advantages due to his gender – and his sentiment is sadly probably doubly true for we women.
Sometimes, we job-seeking friends get together and laugh and look to that old paragon of female can-do, Rosie the Riveter, and steel ourselves for another foray into the job seeking jungle. Of course, that was a very different time, more than a generation before any of us were around, but it is perplexing that we don’t have an updated version of Rosie to which we can look for inspiration.
So for anyone listening, whether you fall into the over 50 category and are looking for new work or whether you are in a position to hire people, I say this – please do not undervalue women with experience. We may have exchanged the shiny patina of youth for a more experience-honed sheen, but our hearts and minds and capabilities have grown and expanded exponentially over a lifetime. We are a bevy of badasses! A collection of capables! A serious and large pool of exceptionally skilled workers.
We grown-up women exude talent in every area imaginable, from engineers to editors, from waitresses to steel workers, from tech to the trades. Not to mention our high levels of emotional intelligence, a very necessary and undervalued quality.
Expertise. Smarts. Moxie. We have it all. And all we are asking for – beyond wage parity, still a distant dream - is a chance to prove that we can get the job done when given the opportunity.