MAKING THE TRANSITION from student to professional is never easy, but it’s much more difficult if you’re approaching middle age. That’s why this new internship for women over 40 is so important: it offers women the chance to re-enter the workforce with marketable skills employers are looking for in the age of social media.
Every job posting these days might list social media and marketing skills as preferred, or even required, but these are relatively recent demands for employers to make of potential employees. Digital natives, younger Gen-Xers, and older Millennials may have developed a knack for Twitter and Instagram at their first jobs, or even in college, but those who earned managerial positions before the digital boom probably never had to learn how to use hashtags, build a personal brand, or create an online portfolio.
Founded by Gwen Wunderlich and Dana Kaplan of Wunderlich Kaplan Communications (WKC), The Enternship is a 4-week crash course in “[PR] and digital communications skills.” Although public relations skills might not appear often on non-specialized job listings, putting PR experience on your résumé will give your job search the boost it needs. For women older than 40, that bump can mean the difference between a silent phone and a job offer.
The lack of what have become nearly universal job skills for Millennials can cause big problems for women looking to re-enter the workforce, particularly if their experience lies in another field. In fact, it’s possible to be overqualified for a return to one’s chosen field, as Paulette Light points out in an article for The Atlantic:
Because I leaned in so much in my 20s, I created a no-win situation for myself in my 40s. I trained for a high-power management role, one where you can’t really pickup where you left off after being absent for over ten years. By leaving the workforce, I lost all of my accumulated experience and expertise — exactly what made my company want to negotiate family-friendly parameters with me before I left.
Overqualified or not, once they reach middle age, women are less likely to find jobs. Researchers at the University of California at Irvine and Tulane University found that older female applicants were less likely than their younger counterparts to receive callbacks from prospective employers, even though age did not appear to affect callback rates for men. Labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci says this combination of ageism and sexism boils down to the devaluation of domestic work:
So if you have an older woman coming to you and applying for a job, you’re going to think about what kind of experiences she had, what kind of skills she might have. And rightly or wrongly, but probably unfairly, you’re going to assume that she had some time out of the labor market and that she was doing something that was basically worthless, because she wasn’t being paid for it.
Hiring practices changed after the Great Recession in 2008. Before the economy began to improve, jobs went to only the most qualified applicants: those employers believed would pose the least risk of failure. According to The Washington Post, before the economic downturn, “there were more than 70 programs in the U.S. designed to help highly skilled women … who’d taken a detour out of the workforce to ‘onramp’ and get back in.” Few of those programs remain, but The Enternship could be the start of a brand new batch.
Today, Millennials job hop to roughly three positions in the five years after they graduate college. Women of previous generations, however, are more likely to stay with a job for longer than their forebears did 30 years ago. The Carsey Institute’s Kristin Smith attributes the increase in women’s tenures to “[w]orkplace changes and accommodations,” including “job flexibility, family leave and family-friendly workplace policies,” all of which help working mothers balance work and home life.
Finding a work-life balance is important for mothers of small children, but the 40-plus crowd — who may be raising youngsters or packing kids off to college — require different accommodations than their younger peers. Light suggests employers make space for more freelance work that utilizes “the management, negotiation, budgeting skills [women] gained in [their] years out of the workforce,” which would give value to the unpaid labor of motherhood.
With more than 3 million well-educated women actively looking for employment, a rise in flexible job opportunities and career change training programs like The Enternship is essential if we want to get women older than 40 back into the workforce. They make up “the fastest-growing segment of the workforce,” according to The Cut, and the mothers among them bring in undervalued skills from years spent budgeting, purchasing, and raising children.
Even if you aren’t in charge of hiring, you can help make women older than 40 important. Just recognize that what they’ve done already is important — and that they aren’t finished yet.