About this survey, and why I’m asking
Listen to the audio (about 10 minutes in length) and/or read the following … or, launching right in and take the survey! It will take about 10 thoughtful minutes to complete.
[First published August 23, 2020; republished Sept 14, 2020] I am exploring the perceived impact of ageing specifically as it affects women in the workplace.
My own story, in a nutshell, is that I have been looking for fulltime, secure, fair-paying work since about aged 43. At 39, I had a child and had to take time off to attend to her medical needs. I am now 55, and I am still looking. I have yet to earn what I was earning at 39. A quick search of women’s earning patterns tells me this is not unique.
In the 12 years while searching, I wrote a freelance newspaper column that won me the praise of CBC’s late, great humourist Arthur Black, I wrote a book that on the day of its Amazon.com launch saw me as the TOP Mover and Shaker (and the in-person launch was a sold-out high-end affair), I created a mastermind group for women entrepreneurs that lasted for over a decade, and most significantly I founded an online community newspaper that serves a town of 13,000 and at its peak, my newspaper was getting over 6,000 hits per day. In my earlier professional life, I earned two degrees, and accumulated experience in website development, writing, teaching (motorcycle safety as well as software training), public speaking, project management and much, much more. Whenever I cast my mind back over my extensive career and incredible results, I think, “Nothing more than a pulse-check should be required from me, I’ve done more than most, men included.” Yet, I can’t get that secure job that recognizes my value and pays my worth.
Those jobs do exist. Clearly. I apply to hundreds per year for the last 12 years. But I almost never qualify for an interview … and I have never gotten that job.
Yes, I have found work during those 12 years. When I first started looking at age 43, my hobby, cartooning, led me to an entry-level reporter job that paid just barely over minimum wage and I was expected to show up with a related degree and a reliable vehicle; the 16-year-old in my family is currently earning more than what I earned at that job. I currently have a part-time gig as an Executive Director at a non-profit (and most non-profit executive positions go to women because they are generally low paying). Here, I am paid a living wage, and it is half time, so I supplement my income driving taxi. The 18-year-old high school graduate in my house earns 90% of my hourly wage. So, despite those low-income jobs that have kept me at a standard of living below the poverty line, my search for a secure job that pays my worth has actively continued over the years.
I have still not returned to the wage that I was making at 39, when I was eight months pregnant and laid off by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
A few years back, I mentioned my struggle to the then-new Premier of BC (who I know through my years of journalism); he said it was a shared struggle of ageing, and of course failed to see the gendered difference in his statement, given our very different stations in life. I mentioned it also to a male producer who I know at CBC, who responded that this was a struggle for all who age. His own fear was a hypothetical layoff that may loom should the political climate in Canada shift. He has since become an executive producer.
Growing up, I heard from my stepmother that women grow invisible as they age. Now, I am feeling it. I’m living it. Not just have I grown invisible, but my entire skillset has become irrelevant. At the same time, I repeatedly hear that there is a gap – nay, a near-absolute VOID – of women in executive positions. Every time I apply for that job, I am screaming (without trying to sound too frantic or desperate), “LOOK, DAMMIT, I’M RIGHT HERE!” I used to get four to five interviews per year, but these days…. Crickets. Not even the crackling of broken glass. I can’t even break that ceiling.
The most recent rejection hit me hard. My own town advertised for a Communications person. The job paid well, offered security, and tapped into a skillset that I have mastered, and have been actively demonstrating for the past five years with my newspaper in this town. As Executive Director, I also have accomplished significant successes during the pandemic, including the launch of an electronic shopping mall that saw over 50 local businesses open an online presence. And, I didn’t even qualify for an interview. When that hit home, I went into my bedroom and closed the door behind me. The girls were in bed. And I wept, clearly seeing what has been screamingly obvious over the past many years. At 55, I am old. I am woman. I am great at doing what I do. I finally found my freaking roar. While I have finally left behind most of the crap that held me back from being my best during my youth instilled through layers of gendered violence, it no longer mattered. I am, at least in my own profession, completely and utterly unemployable.
How in the hell did that happen?
I know I’m not alone. Anecdotally, I know countless women who share my struggle. A woman who ran a health and wellness centre is now painting houses. A woman who served in the military is now volunteering as a part-time secretary hoping to get “real world” skills – that supposedly count. A woman with a Ph.D. is going from contract to contract. An IT worker, cleaning houses. A former corporate investigator doing pedicures. Skilled, educated, brilliant experienced women running small businesses and barely eking out a living. I imagine it’s harder still if you are a woman of colour, of substance, Indigenous, or with a visible mobility challenge
While business headlines repeatedly (and seemingly tokenly) bemoan the absence of women in upper levels of management, this is a world that refuses to see what’s right there, under their privileged noses.
And in this professional void, we really must ask ourselves, what skills and talents are being lost? I know for certain mine are. I know for certain the anecdotal collection of women I know are.
This survey is born from my observations and my experience. Now, it’s going to come down to this: It is either me, or it is the systemic and willful blindness of those in positions of power, failing to acknowledge the skills that older, experienced women have to offer. If it is me, then the loathing of Britt Santowski Canada-wide (for I’ve applied across the country to governments and corporations and institutions) may possibly out-loathe Donald Trump, and that’s worth writing about. But if it is not me, and if this is a systemic denial of the experience that older women bring to the table, that too is worth exploring.
I have questions, and I have concerns. Does a break in employment spell career devastation for women? It certainly did for me. And if it applies to the shared female experience, the pandemic is about to wreak immeasurable havoc onto the lives of many, many women. Can young women “see” themselves represented in the workplace glancing up the corporate ladder? as elders? as experienced? as mentors, willing to give that invaluable hand up? as role models that young women can aspire to become? Certainly not right now! Female politicians in BC, for example, are on average five years younger than their male counterparts. Is our obsession with female youth killing opportunities for experienced women? What, realistically, should I prepare my own girls for? Is telling them that they can grow up to be anything a blatant lie? Should I prepare them for an income peak in mid-working-life and tell them to adjust their professional expectations accordingly? Or, should I fight like hell (and secure my further and forever UNemployability) by setting out to expose ageism specifically as it affects, rejects, and erases the acquired experiences of women?
It would mean the world to me if you would take 10 minutes of your valuable time to help me answer some of these questions and determine my next steps. I’m ready to fight … if you are ready to tell me this is something worth fighting for.
Start-up innovator of PocketNews, est 2014
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