Perhaps it’s not the best time for bold changes, with record unemployment as a global pandemic sweeps the world. But the global pause in normal transmission has given me time to consider what it is to be a midlife career woman, and what comes next for us.
Since 1978, Australian womens’ workplace participation has increased by 184% . The participation rate for women between 45 and 54 years (for the same period) has risen from 46.6% to 80.2% . So we are (still) working it.
Competent and qualified
Over the last decade, women aged 18–64 years have been consistently more likely than men in this age group to have attained an undergraduate degree or above. By midlife, we’ve finished uni or training, and toiled through formative career years.
For some, we’ve also juggled the early years of parenting while trying to maintain a career. I’ve been one of these women and worked with these women, and these ladies sure can juggle!
In midlife, family responsibilities change
Women with children are far more likely than their partners to work part-time, and also more likely to be underemployed. Now however, as opposed to ‘then’, our children have grown-up or are older and more independent. This has relieved some of the practical considerations in our attempt to balance careers and family. Some women though, have replaced caring for children with caring for others. In Australia, twice as many women as men are responsible for caring for ageing parents or other family.
For me, midlife has seen a small relaxing of these dual responsibilities, which has fuelled new motivation. Far from being finished or washed-up, we’re now free to to re-imagine our career prospects and throw ourselves unrestricted into careers again.
The global pandemic has presented an interesting opportunity for new flexibility in the workplace. Working from home, flexible start/end hours and telecommuting practices have now been embraced the world over as a needs must response. Hopefully, this flexibility will remain once the virus has abated. These small changes to work will benefit women, especially those with other responsibilities at home.
Midlife for women is a time of change and motion, so why don’t businesses and workplaces see the advantages of employing this highly educated and skilled workforce?
Without writing a thesis here, let’s acknowledge there are enduring barriers for women in the workplace. Evidenced most starkly by the wage gap women endure their entire working life and the lack of women in senior positions across most industries. Now, be it due to institutionalised or unconscious bias, midlife women have to deal with both ageism AND sexism. What a huge loss of talent, expertise and experience as midlife women are overlooked.
I’m with Hilary Clinton who thinks the ‘future is female’. Midlife women are a powerful force for change and a huge untapped resource with much to offer. Viva la midlife I say!
Tracy is a media professional working in television. An enthusiastic explorer of the inter webs, she's held many different roles and has worked on documentary, reality and lifestyle television shows across almost two decades in the industry. Tracy also writes.