Savvy and Sassy Sharp Advice from Marcus for Women Over 50

By Steven Libowitz   |   March 11, 2021

From the very first paragraph in Bonnie MarcusNot Done Yet!, the Santa Barbara author leaves no doubts about the attitude readers can expect from her new self-help book subtitled “How Women Over 50 Regain Their Confidence & Claim Workplace Power.” 

“Okay. Right from the get-go, I’m gonna be straight with you. I’m pissed,” Marcus writes in the introduction, titled “My Rant.” “I consider myself to be smart, savvy, and sassy. I know I have value. I can declare with confidence that I’ve evolved over the decades into a mature, level-headed woman with extensive experience and expertise … I’m pissed that society seems hellbent on pushing (women like me) to the sidelines and diminishing our contributions.” 

But pissed doesn’t mean powerless. Marcus employs her years as a business executive and, later, as an award-winning executive leadership coach, to deliver clear advice to her readers on how to deal with discrimination, both internally and externally, which, despite advances made by women in the workplace, still results in pay inequity and underrepresentation in top positions, especially for “older” women. 

The book is divided into three sections: “Assumptions, Fears, and All the Crap about Aging That Holds You Back;” “Stop Playing Small and Do What It Takes to Stay in the Game;” and “Be Your Badass Self.” The author offers plenty of empathy along with suggestions that range from self-empowerment to suing for relief. 

That level of directness and decisive action isn’t new for Marcus, who moved to Santa Barbara about three years ago. She fell in love with the area in mid-August while brunching at the Boathouse restaurant at Hendry’s Beach after she had delivered a speech at a conference at UC Santa Barbara. She had been considering relocating from the East Coast. After that brunch, she found an apartment in town by October. 

This week, Marcus will share her passion to help other women own their talent and ambition and achieve their full potential through speaking engagements, workshops, blogging, and her popular podcast, Badass Women at Any Age. Specifically, she’ll discuss Not Done Yet! with Dr. Lois P. Frankel, who is also an executive coach and speaker and The New York Times bestselling author of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. The conversation takes place over Zoom through Chaucer’s Books at 6 pm on Tuesday, March 9, the official release date of Not Done Yet! For more details, link at www.chaucersbooks.com

Q. I wasn’t excited about taking on a book about helping older women navigate the workplace, especially from a leadership coach, which I expected would lead to some stilted prose. But Not Done Yet! is nothing like a typical self-help book. Your writing is so sassy and funny and straightforward. And it seems like you reveal a lot about yourself as you give advice to others. 

A. I wanted it to be punchy. That’s why the writing style is really direct, take no prisoners, and conversational. I wanted the women who were reading it to feel like I was having an intimate conversation with them, getting to the down-and-dirty, and letting them know that I get where they’re at, that I understand and have empathy. Now, here’s some of the things that you can do.

My first book contained career advice about how to navigate the workplace and position yourself for success. I didn’t reveal very much, barely anything, about myself and my feelings. This book is very different because it’s much more personal. I’m certainly very vulnerable talking about how I felt about menopause, how I feel about aging, how I feel when somebody tells me, “Oh, you look great for your age.” I say thanks before I realize, ‘Wow, that’s really ageist.’ That’s kind of what got me going. 

Those things can be so insidious. Is that what inspired you to write the book?

Looking back on my career, I didn’t face overt ageism and terrible gender bias. I hadn’t faced some of the horrific experiences that some women I’ve interviewed for this book went through. Some women have been marginalized and pushed aside, and not invited to key meetings or being labeled as over-the-hill or called grandma. But at 50 I was running a national company and people were saying, ‘You should start to slow down.’ That was ridiculous because I was in the prime of my career. As a society, we put people in categories based on gender, on religion, education, and age. And we make assumptions about them, about what they can and can’t do. Those categories hold us back from really getting to know people as individuals. 

For older women, it’s a double whammy. Many experience gender bias, and then ageism once they show signs of aging. We are at the time in life when we have so much to offer. We have years and lessons that we can pass on. But some are pushed out because maybe they have some wrinkles. It’s just a tragedy. That can translate into the financial viability and security of women who are being downsized because they’re starting to show signs of aging. I’ve interviewed women who said they felt they needed to get Botox and (plastic) surgery, just to keep their jobs. 

With the #MeToo movement, we’ve heard so much about sexual harassment or worse in the workplace. But this is like the other side of the coin.  

When I was beginning to write this book, I wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune about how age discrimination for women is the next phase of the #MeToo movement. I had been coaching a 58-year-old female attorney who worked in Silicon Valley. She had a great track record and had been evaluated as a valued contributor. She wanted to move up in the legal department. But all of a sudden, some of her workload was being redistributed. She wasn’t being invited to meetings, people weren’t seeking her opinion and when she asked her manager about it, he said, “You’re going to be alright.” What does that even mean? 

That’s when I realized that this is a bigger issue than most of us realize. It’s under the radar. Before #MeToo, women were ashamed to bring up their experiences about sexual abuse or harassment; they felt that they might lose their jobs. I’m finding a similar element in that women feel a lot of shame around being treated a certain way based on their age, so women aren’t coming talking about that it publicly. They don’t feel empowered to respond to comments and behavior around age, either. I feel pretty passionate about helping to create awareness around gender ageism and the pressure that women feel to look useful and attractive just because they need to keep their jobs.

Your gift seems to be handling this serious subject from an integrated approach that includes sharing your thoughts and feelings and dispensing advice from a leader’s point of view in which you urge readers: “Don’t be a victim.” How do you strike a balance between those parts?

The coach in me always asks: How can I advise and help? One benefit is that professional women reach out to me to talk about their issues, and that becomes an opportunity for me to learn about myself. When a woman says she feels like a victim, I wonder: ‘Maybe you’re giving your power away because then nobody can take it from you.’ So I give them an exercise on work on that. Then I think: ‘How do I get my power back?’ 

I liked how you veered between naming obstacles that come from discrimination and telling readers to own their role in believing damaging messages. That seems to be a challenging balance. 

A lot of this issue has to do with mindset. There are definitely obstacles in the workplace that women, and women over 50, face. But how you react determines your path forward. You can adopt a victim mentality, think “woe is me” and withdraw. Or you can take back control and that has everything to do with your attitude. How do you react to different behaviors and comments? How do you give your power away? There’s lots of advice for different ways that women can empower themselves and stand up for themselves. If attitude isn’t enough there are chapters about knowing your rights and how to respond to comments so that you don’t get fired, and how to negotiate a good package if you are let go. 

You wrote the book for women over 50. I’m being facetious here, but is there a problem if men or young people buy it? 

We’re all going to age, right? You may be a millennial now, but at some point, you won’t be able to coast on that, so you need to be proactive. You can do some things, which I outline in the book, to maintain and advance your career for however long you want to work. It’s been said that women start to experience age discrimination at age 45, which is ridiculous. So maybe all women need to be aware that this is what is coming around the corner.

 

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