Being a young woman – as much a state of mind as it is a number

Being a young woman in an organisation comes with challenges. From my own experiences I’ve often felt that being a “young” woman is as much about state of mind as it is about age. And this was brought home even more strongly to me recently when I carried out a survey aimed at young women at work.  

“I’m 45, am I still considered young??”

“How are you defining young?”

“I’m not sure if I even qualify as young any more…”

…Were just a few of the comments from women who answered my survey around better understanding the confidence of young women in the workplace. 

A recent you.gov study says that most Brits believe that youth ends by the age of 30 but when I look at my own experiences and those of my clients and colleagues, it feels like being young is much more about a label we pin on ourselves and that others pin on us, and much less about the numbers of years we’ve been on the planet. 

Below are my own reflections on what it means to be young at work, or perhaps more importantly what it means to feel young when we’re at work…

  • walking into a meeting room and feeling like everyone is judging you by how young you look 
  • walking into a meeting room and thinking how much like your parents everyone else looks
  • being young (and a woman) means going to a job interview and being asked if you’re likely to get pregnant in the next 2 years
  • that the old buggers keep reminding you of your youth, energy and servitude…
  • not always feeling confident in expressing your opinions and sharing your ideas
  • being the first one in and the last one out as you feel you have something to prove
  • you don’t yet know everything about the politics of the company, the culture, the hierarchy…the unwritten rules
  • feeling intimidated by the weight of others’ professional experience  

Being young feels like shorthand for all of our insecurities. And Yes, while all that may be very true … we can also choose to turn it on its head and see being young as a massive opportunity. 

  • Being young in an organisation means not getting attached to “we’ve always done it this way”
  • Being young means bringing fresh perspectives, a different way of looking at things 
  • Being young means being in touch and having a better understanding of what other “young” people want/ need as clients or other colleagues
  • Being young means an appetite to try new things, take risks, dare… 

Overcoming both the actual age thing and the psychological label of being or feeling young is not easy. But the first step is acknowledging which it is – age or mindset! 

If it’s an uncomfortable, self-limiting “young” label that we keep going back to, it can be helpful to recognise it, understand it and try to find ways to reframe it. 

Often in coaching we start by thinking about things like:

  • What am I feeling? thinking? 
  • What is it that might be triggering the emotion of feeling “young”? Is it a particular situation or relationship? 
  • What’s the impact on me? 
  • What can I control in this situation?  
  • How might I look at this situation differently? What do I want to feel instead…?

The responses to these questions will be unique and specific to you as an individual and to your own experiences. But whatever responses you come to, ultimately there are three things we need to remind ourselves of:

  • recognise that we are all different
  • recognise that with differences come new perspectives and fresh thinking
  • realise the importance of recognising and embracing the value we bring. 

Or as Emma Stone said so well “what sets you apart can sometimes feel like a burden and it’s not…a lot of the time, it’s what makes you great.”