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Are older women in the workplace invisible? Women and ageism

Today (18th October 2022) we celebrate World Menopause Day which is an opportunity to raise awareness of what is a normal physiological experience for women but one that still seems to have a degree of stigma attached to it. For many generations, women just did not talk about this time in their lives or maybe only with other close female friends.

Raising awareness of menopause

World Menopause Day is intended in part to make menopause both better understood and accepted. But also, and importantly, to break some of the stigmas that surround it. It is great that menopause is now being widely and openly talked about. It has become a subject for discussion not just within women’s circles but is now on the organisational agenda in terms of how female workers can be supported both physically and mentally as they navigate this time. However, it is interesting to consider why historically menopause has been talked about in hushed tones.

Suffering menopause in silence

Menopause is without doubt a personal and intimate period of change both physically and mentally,

something that each woman experiences in their own way. Perhaps it is the intimate nature of menopause

that has meant women have navigated it on their own. But is the silence and secrecy surrounding menopause also something to do with what the physiological change represents for women and how they are viewed in society after menopause?

Menopause = loss

Menopause is about the loss of fertility in women and this, by association, is often assumed to also mean a loss of sexuality. Given that fertility and sexuality are both strong lenses through which women are viewed in all aspects of their lives, to be seen to have lost these qualities is perhaps where the hushed tones and the awkwardness stems from. Menopause can be a period of significant emotional turmoil and a sense of change to the body, mind, and to perceptions of others.

Menopause = transition

Of course, the reality of menopause is that women can remain busy, vibrant, attractive, and sexual

long past menopause and there are so many examples of such women all around us. Many women move into more rewarding and successful parts of their lives as they age, taking on more demanding roles in the workplace and achieving senior leadership. Given the non-linear lives women often lead due to childcare or family responsibilities, this means that women often come into their own as leaders (formal or informal) at a later time in life compared to men. They move into a period when they have more to offer both in the workplace and at home due to the maturity, experience, and insights they have gained and at a time when family demands may have lessened. Yet women are also often overlooked as they get older, particularly in the workplace. Why is this?

Are older women in the workplace invisible?

It is often said that women become invisible as they get older, perhaps because they are viewed as

‘post-sexual’. The link between attraction and success has been often made (Mobius & Rosenblat,

2006) and so the assumption that women are less attractive with age, coupled with their perceived lack of

relevance due to loss of fertility and (assumed) loss of sexuality may explain why older post-menopause women are often overlooked and not listened to as much.

Becoming visible as an older woman

Gina Frangello has challenged the idea of the ‘invisible’ woman suggesting that in fact, becoming invisible could relieve women from the constant pressure to make themselves sexually attractive. She proposes that we, as older women, should be asking ourselves to whom we want to be visible. And, I would add, we should consider what we want to be visible for.

Perhaps in honour of World Menopause Day 2022, rather than women railing against being ignored as they get older, we should start to actively identify and promote the many successful women who prove

that age and attraction are not the be-all and end-all of a woman’s life.

I'd love to hear about your experiences as an older woman in the workplace - please do get in touch or comment below!

1 Comment

Oct 18, 2022

thank you for this lovely article, I certainly appreciate.

I’m a business owner and I lean towards hiring older women. My husband who is also my business partner tells me to make sure and hired them. They are filled with experience, they can give back to society , they are more caring and settled. We also look at it as economic independence, some are single mothers or even widows. Therefore having their financial needs meet is of utmost importance.


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