The 1965 best-seller by Stephen Vizinczey, “In praise of older women: the amorous recollections of András Vajda” is about the potential and attractions of amorous relationships between young men and older women (women in their 30s and 40s). My ‘older women’ are the women who are in their 50s and 60s, and ‘70s, who still work for a living, or who would like to.
Much is said and written about diversity management and the benefits of multi-cultural work environments: the richness of perspectives and experiences that can be brought together to create a dynamic and unstoppable organisation. Occasionally mention is made of the age factor and what a wonderful asset ‘older workers’ might be. Not often do we apply our minds to ‘older women’ as an employment category.
Human Resources folk constantly juggle between the big and little pictures: the demographics, patterns and statistics vs. the individuals. We advocate consistently against stereotyping and unfair discrimination. We search for answers to questions like ‘recruit for the job’ vs. ‘recruit for potential’ and struggle with choosing between the best or the most equitable candidate (they aren’t always the same person). As we teeter on this tightrope of increasingly complicated considerations and what the law will tolerate or allow, I want to raise my voice in praise of older women, knowing that I run the risk of generalising and that some readers may have the ‘yes but…’ thing going on in their heads. What I intend to say bears saying nonetheless.
- Older women see through the nonsense, hypes, fads and ruses of the job market and workplace because they’ve been there; done that. They are therefore more capable of cutting to the chase: What is really going on and what we can do about it. No more hedging of bets, fearful of making a good impression, older women have the facts and analysis to allow wisdom to pour forth when they make decisions and give advice.
- Older women are less likely to be competitive. They have proved what they’re going to prove and now they want to consolidate and share their wisdom. They know it’s taken them 30 years to arrive here and they’ll allow the young ones the time to learn. If they come across someone with matching wisdom (whomever it comes from) it is cause for celebration, not getting the knives out.
- An older woman has usually settled into a long term relationship or a single life and no longer expends work time fretting about the hunk next door, whether her make-up is right, or whether the boss would think she’s coming on to him when she offers to work late.
- The children are out of the house. No more fretting about picking up the kids vs. getting the job done or missing the school concert because of a business trip. No more agonising about career versus motherhood. The absence of kids in the immediate domestic environment bodes well for her health and that of her colleagues: the seasonal coughs and colds that come via the school bus are gone. She has time to look after herself for a change and her employer benefits from a fitter, healthier employee who has a positive outlook on life in general and work in particular.
- Pregnancies are a non-issue. And menopause, well, yes, it is there, but it too, shall pass or has passed.
- The best older women are patient. They know that it takes time and concentration to have a job done well. They do not believe that a strategy can be fleshed out in 140 character sound-bytes. It is true that older people take longer to respond to intellectual challenges, but we now know that it is not because they’ve lost their capacity to think, but rather that they have so much data to choose from and they know to be circumspect in making choices before they respond – it has all the makings of the start of wisdom.
In what might have been Yoko Ono’s words “Give older women a chance!” Or, as Helen Reddy sang, back in 1975: I am woman; hear me roar.
© Delphine du Toit (2014)