A Postmenopause View on Midlife Women at Work - Stella
Her story

A postmenopause view on supporting midlife women at work

byJane Evans

With decades of experience as a creative director in the advertising industry, Jane Evans launched iconic brands with successful campaigns. It came as a dreadful shock when she was unable to find employment aged 50+ and faced ageism at every interview. Disillusioned and broke, Jane founded Uninvisibility, a project to celebrate women over 45 and a global agency of creative women just like her. Jane explains why the world of work for women is broken and what we need to do to fix it.

Women used to have to give up their job once they got married and I am from the first generation with the right to work. My generation is the first to have gone through a full career and on the other side of menopause. When we went through menopause, we knew nothing about it.

We are the generation who fought for paid maternity leave and childcare, as we didn’t have this ourselves. Now we are pioneering the final stage of our careers and we need to help younger women by evangelising about how great life is postmenopause.

If we don’t, we risk the stereotype of hot, white-haired, sweaty, mad women in the workplace”

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We need to talk about what comes after menopause

Our generation should live a long life, up to 100 years, and yet we struggle to get a decent job past 50? We risk our old-age pensioners living in poverty in 20 years’ time as 48% of women have no savings. We can’t wait for the generation going through menopause now for there to be action. We can band together and find opportunities so we can retire in comfort.

At the moment there isn’t enough of us from the first generation talking about what comes after menopause. What I discovered was a boost in energy.

When the next generation goes through menopause, there will be enough of them to ensure the menopausal stereotype changes”

The challenge now is what do we do with the women we have lost from the workforce already? What can we do with these pioneers of women’s careers?

Overcoming a damning societal narrative

I had a rough menopause and I don’t know if my lack of confidence was a symptom or because of the way society views older women. I was out of work for three years after I took a couple of years out to study screenwriting at the National Film & Television School. When I wanted to return to advertising, the attitude I faced was, “How dare you even try and come back!”

In 2015, a report came out that only 3% of the world’s creative directors were women. I was probably the most ridiculously overqualified woman for the role and, aged 52, I stuck my hand up very loudly but was completely ignored by my industry. I experienced ageism to my face by men and women. I would speak to headhunters who said they needed female leadership desperately, but would never hear from them again.

It’s a societal narrative that once you are over 50, there is no place for you in a competitive creative career.

To find out that my talent had no value at 50+ was devastating”

Getting seen and heard

My career was astounding and I had been a regional creative director and owned my own agency with clients like Maserati and Revlon. I would have been such an asset to any organisation but I could not get in. I had relied on my talent all my life and to find out that my talent had no value at 50+ was devastating. It was terrifying as I could always earn money to get out of any danger in the past.

When it became apparent early on that I wasn’t able to get a job, I set up my own business. I tried everything I could to earn a living. I couldn’t even get a freelance job at an advertising agency and I ended up writing treatments for directors to sell their ideas to advertising agencies.

I lived off scraps for those three years, ended up using food banks and being evicted”

I started the Uninvisibility Project as a movement and creative agency that has changed the narrative about midlife women. I found women like me all around the world with fantastic, amazing careers and mantlepieces full of awards from the 80s-00s.

These women had given up their careers when they had kids as there wasn’t any paid maternity leave. They were working in cottage industries with local clients and they wanted to get back into working on the big stuff.

Read a useful legal perspective on menopause at work.

Goodbye old lady and hello old punk

My look and brand had always been exceptionally important to me before menopause. Germaine Greer wrote about the crone stage and I certainly lost interest in what I looked like. I sensed it but couldn’t get up the passion or energy to do anything about it. I felt old, fat, was going white and who cares?

I can tell you the exact day it all changed and I came out on the other side of menopause. In 2018, I woke up on a sofa bed in Paris and realised I had slept all night with the covers on for the first time in ages. I hadn’t had a night without waking up for at least four years.

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It felt like a switch had been flicked on. I went out, had a croissant and looked at all the women walking around Paris. Inspired by their personal style, I went off to the shops and bought my new look. When back in the UK, I said to my hairdresser, “No more old lady. I want old punk. Shave it off and anything that isn’t white, make it white.” It was like a whole new attitude, a new me and a new beginning.

Read more about sleep issues in our menopause symptoms library.

It wasn’t until I got to the end of my menopausal journey that I realised being invisible, unheard and broke was not me”

Who was this woman who had been inhabiting my body for the last few years? Paris was a jolt and supercharged me.

To get into advertising back in the day, you had to be beautiful and 10 times better than men. While I wasn’t a model type, there was an expectation that you would dress like a pretty girl. Without being judged for looks any longer, I could finally create a personality and wear the clothes I didn’t have the guts to before. I went for brighter colours, bold prints, a touch of punk and Doc Martens. I don’t care what people think anymore!

Planning for plateau

The fact that 35 is said to be the sweet spot of your career is sheer cruelty for women. We should be redesigning women’s careers to suit their biology. There has to be time allowed to plateau their career if they plan to have children and the opportunity to pick it up and grow it again afterward.

Younger women are trying so hard to be superwomen but those of us who tried that, and a lot of us failed, have come to the conclusion that you can have it all but just not all at once. If younger women can see older women picking up their careers and growing exponentially from 45 onwards, it allows them not to be in such a bloody hurry all the time.

Companies should start redesigning maternity leave so that six months before it starts, they bring in a mid-life woman as maternity support rather than just maternity cover. Then you have someone coaching in motherhood and in your career. When you come back you don’t have someone vying to take your position, they simply move onto the next one.

In the creative industries, women on maternity leave often lose their clients because someone takes them over. When they come back, they have to rebuild their clients again. Maternity support from a midlife woman would give a safe pair of hands and someone who understands what this woman, who ultimately wants to come back to this job, needs.

What’s coming next?

I co-authored Invisible to Invaluable – unleashing the power of midlife women with Carol Russell, which takes you on a journey from the start of time to the beginning of the future to show us what the world looks like when we value midlife women.

We continue to raise the profile of women through the Uninvisibility project, while the agency side has an amazing network of creative midlife women worldwide to work on client briefs to reach women 45+. It’s not surprising brands have finally woken up to the power of midlife women, after all, this demographic buys 53% of everything.

We believe the future of work is lifelong learning and multiple careers. We’ve joined forces with WPP and Brixton Finishing School to train midlife women in digital media

There is a massive skills shortage in digital media and it’s the fastest-growing area in the country. The course starts in October and this pilot is focusing on London entrants. WPP will offer 20 women entry-level jobs”

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