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Are we invisible at 50?

There’s no getting away from it – it’s a big number, half a century, a test cap in certain ‘codes’; at the very least worthy of a party with some awkward retro photos and a ‘big night up’ that you practice staying up late for, but some of us would much sooner let that large number slide by; cleverly disguised by a ‘weekend away’ or a quiet few drinks with friends and family.

By 50 you’ve got ‘history’ – not so much ‘mail’, a story, had a life…with all its complexities and rewards. Much is said about reaching this age; you see things less black and white, you’ve survived, you’ve let go of some of your angst, you don’t have to ask permission, you have an opinion, you don’t necessarily move with ‘the pack’, there may be a dose of scepticism (comes with cyclic events we’ve seen before), you ‘follow’ Helen Mirren, but do people really ‘see you’?

 So, let’s really ‘shine the light’ - what’s the perception of the 50-year-old woman in HR?

Whilst I don’t spend too much time dwelling on this subject, on some level I am vainly interested to know the answer... Perception is everything – I know, I coach it!  

With all the buzz words of disruptive technology, agile leadership (try that with mild sciatica), talent wars, architecture of workplace transformation, how do you stay relevant and forward thinking, fresh and ‘young’ not just become same/ same or simply disappear into the ether?

What would the personal trainer at the gym who used to look you in the eye and now looks at the floor say? The young, talented, attractive woman who is just starting her career who is looking for advice on whether to add a photo to her CV or not? The passionate entrepreneurial manager who says tongue in cheek “HR ladies carry a gun in their purse, don’t they?”

So, what is the profile of this proverbial HR lady (still mostly ladies) at 50; a picture of positivity with a swinging ‘bob’, fast moving in hard to find elegant sensible shoes with closed in toe and heel and a slash of bright lipstick for colour. How is she regarded?

Reliable, earnest, trustworthy, dated, bossy, confident, smart, sassy, a ‘handbrake’, a helpful ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, a stalwart of process, a leader of change, a role model?

In our game we meet people who talk about being too old for jobs, feeling cast aside and not wanted, lost their ‘why’, afraid that can’t compete with ‘young’ people for roles, not as technologically savvy, they feel INVISIBLE. During the research of this blog (ok my husband and his mates) I discovered that ‘invisibleness’ is gender neutral - men feel it too.

Well here are some ageing workforce facts from the Employers and Manufacturers Association; we are not alone ageing population/workforce this is a worldwide issue. Generally, we are living longer and are healthier, conversely the birth rate is still low in NZ (1.87%) and it should be over 2% to at least maintain the population. In NZ the current number of people aged 65+ is 650,000 and that is predicted to double by 2039, so there are opportunities here. Your country needs you!

Room for plenty of us to be entirely visible; a veritable force to reckoned with; a preverbal ‘balmy army’ without the beige!

So, here’s what I’ve learned so far for free; whilst age is only a number; a big number can create assumptions, but it’s the universal traits that ‘connect’ us all that we can focus on to promote and ‘pitch’ ourselves (yes, it’s still competitive).

Bring your energy, drive, humour, empathy, motivation, experience and interest in what is going on around you; and know yourself and what you offer ‘inside out’, then get out there and ‘sell it’. Attitude, drive, interest and motivation trumps straight skill set in my view.

And if you need any further motivation you can follow #olderworkers are back (LinkedIn -  November 2017) or if all else fails, channel some girl power with reruns of “Annie get your gun” - purse optional!

Denise Thomas, 'Fifty-something' HR Consultant


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