Career and leadership for females at 50 can be a time in which to evaluate what's important and what's not and decide if, where and when change is needed.Leadership forum for female leaders at 50 and beyond. Stay curious, network, share tweet FL@50 @FL508
When I started my blog at the age of 50, I was setting off on a journey with curiosity and excitement. Curious to find out more about the experiences of older female runners and their participation in running. Excited about learning new skills and developing my writing, adapting it to a different format.
Why write about older women? Women over fifty are not often in the public eye,in fact it can feel that we are invisible. We don’t know much about older women’s experience of participating in sport or their attitudes to exercise.
Istartedbyinterviewingfemale runners over fifty because I wanted to share and give value to their storiesand to celebrate their achievements.
The six women I’ve interviewed, aged from 50 to over 70 have diverse running biographies. Two of them have been runners for most of their adult lives, four started runningafterthe age of40.Their motivations for running vary but they have all found a community of friends through running.By continuing to run into their fifties, sixties and seventies, all six women could be said to be exceptional. Society’s expectations are that older women,and,toalesser extent,men,will become less active and enfeebled by ageing. Instead these women have become more active and stronger. They are also making themselves visible by running at parkrun, at races, on the track and on the streets.
Another way in which I give prominence to older women’s stories is through my curated list of blogs by female runners over 50 from the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. I’m always on thelookoutfor more blogs to add to the list.
Quite early onIbranched off intoa new area of interest. After hearing interviews with pioneering female marathon runners on the Marathon Talk podcast, I became interested in the history of women’s endurance running and have published several articles about this on my blog.For decades women were excluded from endurance sports on the grounds that they did not have the strength, that theirgynaecologicalhealth would suffer and that getting hot and sweatywasunfeminine and unbecoming for women.Women were prohibited from running more than 200m at the Olympics from 1928 to 1960, and the women’s marathon was not added to the programme until 1984.
My aim is tofind out about andrecord the stories of the trailblazing female runners who challenged the status quo and showed what women could achieve in the face oflimited opportunities and prejudice. They built the foundations for women’s running todayand their history deserves to be better known.
Along the way, I’ve developed a network through social media, connecting with people I would otherwiseneverhave reached. Their areas of expertise or interest overlap with mine in one or more ways. I’ve connected with academics in the fields of sports history, sociology and sports science; with campaigners raising awareness of the perimenopause and menopause; with physiotherapists, nutritionists, athletes and coaches; with lots of runners including world record holders and Olympians; and, of course, with many active women over 50.These connections have enriched my writing, especially in the area of running history, and encouraged me to continue.
Five years on, where will my blog journey take me now?Turning 50 did not feel like a big milestone for me but turning 55 has. I feel more keenly aware of the limited time that I have left to achieve what I want to through my blog.I feel that I have something important to say and that what I am doing is worthwhile.I am not sure whatmy destination will be, but I do know that I’m going to pursue it.
If you had asked me ten years ago if I would be happy modelling swimwear and lingerie at 50 I would have run a mile. I started a new career as a professional model at the age of 46 with no idea where it might lead, but with a great sense of optimism and adventure.
Until I reached 40, I had no real career mapped out and certainly wouldn’t have classed myself as having any leadership skills. I found myself divorced and returning to university to gain a degree in Education Skills which I loved;I found learning later in life so much more rewarding than I remember school was. I thought I had finally figured it all out and was set to have a career in early years education.
Life often throws a spanner in the works and when my eldest daughter became ill, I had to stop work and be at home full time. I have to be honest, this set back really crushed my new-found confidence.
During this time, I started modelling in charity fashion shows which was a great way to network with new people and helped to build my confidence back up. After several years I took the plunge and applied to a few model agencies. To my surprise I was signed up by a top London agency and have been working ever since.
In the last three years I have carved myself a niche in the market as an older, silver haired curve model (size 14-16) and become a body confidence activist. I have modelled swimwear in the Bahamas alongside American model Ashley Graham, activewear with Davina McCall for F&F Clothingand represented the older woman in lingerie campaigns including Figleaves and Chantelle Paris.
I’ve been lucky to have worked with brands that are inclusive and show up to represent older women in fashion, it’s about continuously pushing for change. I use any opportunity I get to help represent older women in marketing and advertising and use my social media as an influencer to encourage women to step out of their bubble and be seen and heard.
I am now asked to speak at events about my own body confidence journey and am keen to keep the conversation going around the lack of representation of older women in the fashion and advertising industry.
I have become an Ambassador for the Be Real charity which is committed to help the younger generation change attitudes to body image and to put health above appearance and to beconfident with our bodies.
I’m looking forward to visiting schools in the future to share my own story and experiences to help young women break the cycle of comparing themselves to others and stopping their own body image from holding them back.
I realised that I wasted so many years stopping myself from achieving and trying things because I lacked confidence andheld myself back. I have talked to so many women who are in their late forties and fifties who say the same thing; this new level of body confidence and acceptance is liberating. It has allowed me to push myself out of my comfort zone so much more and it’s where I have grown the most.
I talk to so many women who share similar experiences of reinvention later in life that I decided to create a podcast called Out of the Bubble. I invite women from all backgrounds to share their stories, how they’ve overcome hurdles, reinvented themselves and found new passion and purpose. The women all leave you with lots to think about and good dose of inspiration. In previous years I would have shied away from networking and sticking my head above the parapet but now it’s where I thrive best.
During lockdown I decided to cover more women so now host a Facebook live morning show where I interview a different woman each day and I am delighted with the viewers’feedback. It gives me another opportunity to share these women’s stories that so often get left unheard when we all have a story to tell.
If any of you have a story to tell that you think would inspire others, I would love to hear from you.
I am also happy to reach out to anyone who may be struggling with their own body confidence or might know of any organisation that are keen to help women have a better relationship with their bodies to improve mental well-being.
In the last two weeks, four couples I know have advised me they are seriously considering terminating their marriages or relationships. The average age of these couples is 49.
Following the first wave of COVID-19 and as lockdown restrictions ease has the pandemic surfaced issues sooner for couples?
The average age for divorce in the UK is 46.4 for men and 43.9 for women. Similarly, those age 45 to 49 years old have the most divorces. So if we take the four couples in question they are matching the statistics.
Unreasonable behaviour is the most common cause of divorce in England and Wales, accounting for nearly half of all divorces. In 2017, 46.5% of divorces were caused by unreasonable behaviour. The second most common reason that couples divorce is after a 2 year separation with consent. Adultery was the cause of 10.5% of divorces.
Ref: Divorce Statistics UK 2020
For some COVID-19 has seen a return to rebuilding relationships and bringing families closer together, but not for all. It would seem that the pressure of cohabiting in isolation has brought extreme pressure to couples.
In her Warrington world wide Lifestyle brief “Coronavirus ‘very likely’ to cause spike in divorce rates” Hannah Skentlebery says “Deciding to get divorced is never going to be easy. With the current system, couples have to place the blame for the breakdown of the marriage. Coronavirus isn’t officially “grounds for divorce”, so you will instead need to determine the cause of the breakdown of your marriage between you.”
Whether these four couples go ahead with separation or divorce remains to be seen. However, it is more than possible COVID-19 has made many people re-evaluate their position in life, how they want to live their lives and who they want to live those lives with going forward.
We will need to wait some time to understand the full impact of COVID-19 on individuals and their relationships.
Ciara Moore- Founder of Female Leaders At 50 and Beyond
Living in a small Suffolk village which consisted of literally one street, 15th Century cottage with roses growing up the door, backing onto a wheat field and with a new baby. Sounds idyllic, but I couldn’t drive, and isolation kicked in, it was just before Christmas. Many of the villagers went to a Christmas service at the local parish church and we decided to join them as a new family. The presence of a pram and new-born attracted many and I met a sprightly woman who I later found out to be Lady Gertrude. She took me under her wing, and I sat many times in her kitchen at the huge oak table chatting whilst keeping an eye on my very active baby. Gertrude introduced me to her daughter in law who took me out to a mother and toddler group organised by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). This lifeline helped me enormously and the loneliness, insecurities and timidity of being a new mum gradually diminished. Without hesitation I joined the NCT, became an active member and vowed that I would make sure if I came across any other isolated mum, I would be there for them.
I learnt to drive, we moved to a nearby town and I became the secretary of the local NCT branch and after two years became the Chairman.
As Chairman, my list of priorities was to reduce the length of monthly board meetings, they commonly went on into the late evenings, keeping to the agenda,fundraising and supporting parents and children.
I loved it.
Life was slightly chaotic by then with another child.
Each month we produced a newsletter and I renamed my Chairman slot the Comfy Chair. I wanted to be approachable. The title of Chairman brought responsibilities, respect and real sense of bringing people together. I worked hard at my role and took it seriously even appearing on the local tv.
I was sent details of each NCT member that moved into my area. I then sent a welcome to…. card, with my phone number and assurance that there was a network of people ready to help in anyway they could. I remember receiving details from a woman called Susan, she had just moved into a local village, her husband had taken on a new job and with a baby and expecting her second child she knew no one. I sent a card to welcome her, and she immediately responded. I was determined Susan would not be isolated and face the loneliness I myself had often experienced through living in a village.
We met, drank tea, chatted and ate cake.
This was the start of a great friendship.
This year marked 25 years since I met Susan, we have continued to support each other through thick and thin.
For me, as a leader, it was important to not ignore others, not put my title above the real things in life and to be willing to give of my time and energy. I connected people together, organised coffee mornings, book parties and realised leadership is not just about fulfilling your potential but enabling others to fulfil theirs.
Be encouraged, we all have leadership qualities, we can all inspire, and we can all stand firm in what we believe in without backing down.
In the current situation of a global pandemic we are all finding ourselves dealing with internal and external challenges. Whether it is how to home-school, or keeping the kids occupied, worrying about older relatives, sorting out online or in-person shopping and that’s not to mention the worries, stress and anxiety that Covid19 may trigger from a health perspective… and then there’s the logistics and psychological impact of working from home. Or if you are with one of the essential services and a key worker then you must be experiencing vastly different challenges from the rest of us, but challenges none the less. If you are a key worker reading this, then I give you mywholehearted thanks for all that you are doing.
This blog will address the issue of the imposter phenomenon (IP), or imposter syndrome as it is often, though erroneously, referred to. First of all a little about what IP is and where it might come from. Then I’ll look at where it might show up, especially in the current circumstances and I’ll close with some suggestions that you can follow if you experience imposter feelings or if you manage others with those feelings.
The Imposter Phenomenon is an internal feeling of not being good enough, that you will be exposed as a fraud, even though the external evidence suggests you are really successful at what you do (Clance and Imes, 1978). Research indicates that these feelings increase can increase stress and trigger procrastination and maladaptive perfectionism – among other impacts.
The imposter chatter varies from person to personand from day to day or even minute to minute. It is not a constant feeling, nor is it at the same level all of the time. It can be experienced on a continuum from light to intense, and it is the moderate to intense feelings which create more issues and anxiety.
Causes of the phenomenon vary too. For some the cause can be hyper-critical parenting where you are never quite good enough and there is always room to improve, while for others it ishyper-supporting parenting where “you can do anything, darling” has been misinterpreted as “you must do everything, darling”. It can be perceiving yourself as different from others around you, whether that is in upbringing, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation – to give just a few examples. Societal expectations and messages weight heavily on others and for some it can be a misinterpretation of a childhood message such as “don’t get too big for your boots”, or “pride comes before a fall”. (I have unruly curly hair and my mum would often recite the rhyme “there was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid”. As a child, I subconsciously interpreted that as “I must be good, because I don’t want to be horrid”, so feared making mistakes).
If you experience the imposter chatter, take a moment to reflect on what your own causes and triggers might be. Are they true? Are they still valid? What has changed? How have you changed?
You might like to take some time to reflect and re-write your own story.
Success comes with its own triggers. For someone experiencing the imposter chatter, being promoted or performing well in a task or in a role can create an initial euphoria, closely followed by a sinking feeling or “oh dear, now I’ve got to live up to that”. Indeed, Clance & Imes noticed that the more successful people were, the more prone to experiencing the phenomenon they were.
Given the current circumstances of the global pandemic, there are other triggers that may be causing imposter chatter in people. For those working from home, it can be the fact that you no longer have the chance to run your ideas past your boss or co-worker in a casual “what do you think of this…” manner. The isolation of home-workingdoesn’t provide a chance for someone to walk by your desk and break you out of a reverie, or tocheck whether you are ok when they see a frown upon your face. Or you might be juggling with home-schooling, and feeling that nothing you do is good enough, feeling guilty about not spending more time with your children, yet equally guilty about not being able to focus on your work.
If you are a key worker, especially within the NHS, you might be enlisted to perform a role that you used to do and are qualified to do, but haven’t done for some time. You might find yourself promoted from student into a front line role. You might worry about knowing what to do at the right time when treating a patient with Covid19. You might experience IP feelings in some, all, or none of these situations – and I’m sure there are many more instances where the imposter chatter can rear its head that I haven’t mentioned.
So if you are experiencing the imposter chatter – and please note I say experiencing, not suffering from (“suffer from” is somewhat disempowering, “experiencing” gives you the option of choosing a different experience) – there is something you can do, both to support yourself and others.
Before I get to what to do, one thing not to do, counterintuitively, is to tell people experiencing imposter feelings that they are amazing. They may be doing amazing work, and you may see them as amazing people, but pause a moment… if you tell them they are amazing, while that might be true it could exacerbate their imposter feelings as now they feel like they have to be amazing all of the time to live up to expectations. So be more explicit, give praise by saying WHY you think they are amazing and cite specific examples. And look out for the dismissal of “oh, I’m just doing my job” or “It’s nothing really” or “anyone would have done it…”. Encourage the person you are praising to accept the praise by gently reinforcing that they did that piece of work, dealt with that patient, calmed that customer down… Be explicit about their actions, the impact they had on the situation, and the impact their actions had on you and the team.
Research indicates that an effective way of combatting your own imposter chatter is to gather positive feedback and to talk about your internal feelings with others (Lane, 2015). Both of these you can continue to do, even if you are remote working, or in isolation. Gathering positive feedback is about noticing; noticing when someone says something positive or you receive a positive email, tweet or text, and then noticing your reaction to it. While you can collect any number of positive emails or texts, how many you have, or what they say, won’t matter a jot if you a) don’t review them and b) believe the praise when you do review them. So start to collect the positive feedback and notice your reaction. Are you saying “thank you” out loud because you know that’s polite, but in your head you are making loads of excuses not to accept the praise? Instead of internally saying “yes, but”, try saying to yourself “yes, and…” or “yes, and I learnt this while doing that work” or “yes, and I used this skill”, etc.
Knowing and using your strengths can also be of great benefit when combatting the imposter chatter. Taking an online strengths profile, such as this one, can assist you. So can simply asking friends, family and colleagues to tell you your strengths. Or may be able to spot them yourself by looking for the commonalities in the positive feedback you receive.
Key tips for Leaders and Managers
At this time, more than any other, remember theimportance of regular communication. Everyone is busy, everyone is adjusting, and each person will be coping in their own way. Keep in contact with your staff, by phone, online catchups, one-to-one meetings, a short text message as well as through the more formal (virtual) gatherings. Be a listening ear, even if you have heard it before.
Don’t try to solve the issues, unless specifically asked to do so. It might be easier or quicker, but it can easily undermine someone’s self-confidence.
Reassure your staff that their work is of the standard you expect. If someone is worried how they will be able to replicate something they’ve done or live up to expectations, gently remind them of their skills and training, ask them how they’ve coped if they’ve been in a similar situation, help them identify what they have done in the past that will be useful in the current situation.
And please do not give in to the temptation to make minor, unimportant, amendments to work that staff have submitted, as that can undermine their confidence very quickly.
It can be very helpful to provide an opportunity for staff to network (online at this time, obviously!) so they can share their feelings in small groups – try to simulate the “water cooler” and “coffee machine” conversations that are not happening at the moment.
Finally, remember we are all experiencing a situation we haven’t been in before. Give yourself a break if that imposter chatter has reared its head, and then tell it to pop back down again as it’s not useful at this time. Stepping up, using your skills and focussing on what you can control will help you be the best version of you that you can be right now. And that is all that is needed.
Be you. Be safe. Keep well.
Author & inspirational speaker, Kate Atkin, is currently studying for a PhD focussing on the Imposter Phenomenon in the workplace (and battling her own imposter chatter in the process!) For more information see: www.kateatkin.com
Photographs of my mother aged 50+ scared me when I turned the pages of the photo album. Tightly permed grey/white hair, frumpy shoes, boring outfits gave me a horrible vision of what I might look like when I edged towards 50.
Maybe that was why I was a secondary school headteacher at 42, worked for the Department for Education and as a senior leader for University College London Institute of Education before I was 50. I had a successful career and believed it would continue in exciting ways. I hung onto shoulder length hair because I believed it made me look younger, even though all the advice for my face shape was to shorten it. I wanted to stay as youthful as possible and avoid those photos. Did you see similar photos of your mother? I think lots of us did as there are websites and YouTube channels dedicated to helping us avoid frumpy.
At 55 I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer and what I looked like should have been the least of my worries. Yet my first question was whether I would lose my hair. As treatment progressed, and hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, and a breast disappeared, I began to let go of my frumpy fears. I realised I had invested too much in my desire to look younger. My TEDx talk about this experience asks us to focus on what makes each person unique, rather than what they look like, the colour of their skin, length of their hair or their background.
Ironically, giving up my fear of being frumpy gave me a new belief in what I could achieve. As my new hair began to grow, I made plans to work for myself after bottling two previous opportunities. I also wanted to pay it forward and support others to be their unique best. My radical side emerged again,and I watched with anger the way women’s voices were silenced and their ambitions trashed on social media.
Connecting with other women on Twitter helped me so much when I was ill as, whilst I couldn’t read a book, I could manage 144 characters. I did what I previously thought onlyfrumpy women did and ranted on Twitter. I ranted about the inequity I saw for female educational leaders who weren’tallowed a view. Several of us ranted about why 75% of the education workforce are women yet more men are senior leaders. And when I saw the gender pay gap in education was nearly 20% my anger and that of my wonderful female colleagues gave birth to the joyous community that is #WomenEd.
We have grown from a hashtag to a global community of 29 networks empowering women leaders in 20 countries. We have written two books, have 31,200 twitter followers and are enabling women in education to be 10%braver. We are also influencing policy and practice for all women who can and will lead education in an ethical, strategic, and collaborative way.
I am nearly accustomed to my new face in the mirror every morning but, with apologies to Jenny Joseph, I don’t need a red hat to cover my short hair. I am proud to wear purple, however, as #WomenEd adopted suffragette purple as our colour. We had our 5th birthday on May 19th and are excited to move forward on our joyous, exhilarating journey. Most importantly, I am proud to use the F word again and I have never felt better.