Have you watched Stranger Things and felt a warm longing for every piece of '80s technology in the series—arcade games, video consoles, the unnerving synth title track that bookends every episode? Equally, are you filled with nervous excitement when you set up your crypto wallet, mint an NFT or head to Twitch to watch League of Legends?
If you’re a woman in your 40s, working in tech—or in the suburbs of digital and ecommerce (like me)—you probably want to care for both: a nostalgic fascination for the past and a thrill for a future just emerging. It is this tension, between the wisdom gleaned from experiencing multiple digital hype cycles and the curiosity and openness to experiment with things that aren’t born yet (looking at you 5G), that is future nostalgia. It is the mindset that can help you survive career extinction in an industry that worships at the altar of youth.
Everything grows old, but ageism is another nuanced ‘ism’ to reverse. According to a report by Indeed, there is a lack of age diversity, particularly in technology. And if we look around us, we can’t ignore it. On LinkedIn, there are roles calling for regional digital directors with a minimum of six to eight years of experience, which would make the average age around late 20s to mid 30s. It’s not surprising that women in tech face a double perception bias—on gender and age. But enough of swimming in statistics. We’re here for the solutions.
I’ll be quick to acknowledge that achievements in our careers are partly just dumb luck: supportive spouses, line managers who invest in your growth, and brave friends who inspire. But hey, let’s also credit an internal locus of control: the things we do with purpose and intention to prove to our peers and industry that ideas and innovation are ageless. I’d love to share a few of my strategies with you.
Technology by definition is disruptive—for every age. I would hazard a guess that the concept of blockchain needs as much exposition to someone in their 20s and 30s as to my cohort in our 40s. And yet, as children of an analogue era, we must unlearn to learn. Expose yourself to technology that throws you off-kilter. For example, peel yourself away from the familiar vertical swiping of Facebook’s Feed UX, and experience Snapchat’s jarring front-facing camera interface. These will help you grow new instincts, new muscle memory.
And even as your brain learns to plunge virtual sabres into virtual beats on an Oculus, the pleasant surprise you will encounter is that the fundamentals never change: great storytelling is always at the heart of any digital experience; the business model will always be a flywheel of recurring and incremental value to users. And this is where your intuitive strengths will come to play.
Learn while teaching
We should be so lucky to work in this region. The Boston Consulting Group reveals that Southeast Asia sports the highest percentage of women in the tech workforce—32% vs a global average of 28%. This means we have a thriving community of women operating at the leading (and perhaps bleeding) edge of innovation in technology.
As a professional in my 40s, this is a rich opportunity at our doorstep to be both mentor and mentee. Schedule a few hours a month to advise women-led startups, ideally in an official capacity. Meanwhile, also have the humility to learn from this next generation of female leaders, it will keep you sharp on paradigm shifts in technology and culture.
Ask for more. Find your flow.
Some of the world’s biggest technology companies are led by women over 40: Lisa Su is steering AMD’s growth amid the storm of the chip shortage, Susan Wojcicki has built YouTube into a monolith, and Reshma Saujani is solving our gender gap at the grassroots with Girls Who Code.
I’ll hypothesise that these formidable women continue to be relevant because they’ve actively asked to lead more. So at work, hand-raise to lead programmes where you have about 80% expert-level knowledge, but you’re out of your depth on the balance 20%. This pushes you into ‘flow’, a state of deep focus where the unfamiliar 20% is guaranteed to give you the steepest learning curve. This will eventually pay off to be a showcase of your capacity to innovate—regardless of age.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day this month, I hope this read averts your mid-life crisis, even if for a hot minute. Just know that it’s precisely because you’re aware of the intimate relationship between a cassette tape (extinct) and a pencil (endangered); you are just the right woman to draft the strategy for your business to engage with those gamers on Discord. Go forth and revel in your future nostalgia.
Triveni Rajagopal is global digital director, skin cleansing & oral care at Unilever.