Workingwise.co.uk's annual survey was published last week and shows that a high number of...read more
Sarah Pittendrigh talks to workingwise.co.uk about getting older people back to work, age diversity, her new book about her life and work and why passing on your knowledge to others matters.
In a supposed bid to encourage older people back to work, the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said at the weekend that “life doesn’t just have to be about going to the golf course”. But instead of galvanising people to head back to the workplace, it came across as completely out of touch, says businesswoman Sarah Pittendrigh.
She should know – she specialises in mentoring midlife CEOs and female founders so she knows only too well what the challenges are for people over 50.
“The 50 + age group is a valuable asset, with wisdom and experience often in abundance. But what is the incentive and where is the support for them to return to work?” she asks. “The care system is in crisis. Many in midlife have had to take over the role of full-time carer for their elderly relatives, while the cost of childcare is so extortionate others are full-time nannies for their grandchildren. The problem is much, much bigger than bringing the over 50’s back into work. They are already burnt out after a career and now an extended career in care! As a business coach and mentor supporting midlife women in work, I am hearing the same stories of overwhelm and burnout from female CEOs. What I am not hearing is that the masses are on the golf course.”
She knows this personally too. At 51, she has confronted cancer twice, overcome bankruptcy and a mental health breakdown when the first corporate events business she co-directed went to the wall in the wake of the 2008 recession. She has also recently been contemplating having to share the care of an elderly aunt with her mum because of the carer shortage.
When the corporate events business Sarah helped to build up collapsed as a result of a contract with a large hotel group and the recession, she was in danger of her house being repossessed. A single mum at the time to a nine year old son, she turned her life around, shelving all her self-doubt and pivoting to running Simply bows and chair covers, a high-end linen business that caters to hotels offering luxury experiences. Within 14 months she was turning over 79K pounds with a 30K pound profit. She saved her house and won several awards, including the Nat West everywoman entrepreneur of the year award in 2015. Since the early days of the business she has franchised it, remarried her husband and set up as a coach and mentor, realising – from her own experience – how lonely many senior women feel.
Sarah feels it is a good thing that the world is suddenly waking up to the wealth of experience that midlife workers offer, but she is angry that it has taken Covid increases in economic inactivity for politicians and business owners to take notice. “They have been so short sighted to ignore midlifers. It makes no sense. They have invested in older workers. They have a wealth of understanding and knowledge and can train and mentor the people coming up behind them,” she says.
Sarah has just published a book on her life and work as an award-winning mentor. The I can method is described as “an energetic, straight-talking mindset reset for a new year, new you”. It is based on her own story and her mentoring work, much of which is about asking women founders and CEOs to focus on the purpose of their business – for them and for their clients – as well as their exit strategy. “Many people are led by what is fashionable and what other people will think rather than on what best serves the purpose of their business,” she says.
Her mentoring business offers a space for women to come and let out all the stress they are feeling, go back to basics and rebuild. “They know that I understand as I have been through it myself and that this is a safe space. So many share the same story of self-limiting beliefs that date back to childhood. Their career trajectory is like a bungee jump – they get so far and yet they don’t think they are good enough.”
Sarah says part of this is also because there are so many unrealistic stories around which give a false idea of what it is like being a woman running a business and make others feel like a failure and unable to seek the support they need. “Social media can do so much good, but if people are lying on it it gives a false sense of reality and that is making people ill,” she states.
It also exacerbates so-called ‘imposter syndrome’, which Sarah views as a double-edged sword. She says some sense of imposter syndrome and self questioning can lead to more informed decision making. Where it is a problem, she states, is when it prevents people doing what they want to do.
Sarah herself is feeling more confident as she gets older and, as host of the Formidable over forty podcast, she is a big advocate of older women and also of age diversity in the workplace – saying it is vital to learn from different perspectives and insights. The majority of her franchisees are in their 50s and she says they tend to be hard working, conscientious and smart.
Personally, she feels that she has only recently come to understand who she is and can now use all her experience to coach and mentor others. In so doing she is sharing her hard-earned knowledge, passing it on so that others can benefit. It’s that knowledge and experience that businesses often fail to value, she says, and ultimately it is their loss.
*The I Can Method is just out, published by Silver Lough Publishing, price 12.99.