At first I was shocked that this thing I had heard about had actually happened to me: apparently the Invisible Older Woman Syndrome affects women aged 50-plus, with post-retirement a whole other story.
There I was, standing at the make-up counter in a major department store, while the beautiful young girl wearing the equivalent of my yearly make-up quota assiduously ignored me whilst talking on the phone. I stood there, with a perfectly good American Express card in my hands, waiting to purchase some items from an expensive skincare and make-up range.
This, friends, was my first “invisible older woman” moment, and that realisation shocked me pretty much to my core. Anyone who has known me for some time would not call me invisible, and neither would I say that about myself. Maybe it had happened before, and I just hadn’t noticed.
At first I was shocked that this thing I had heard about had actually happened to me: apparently the Invisible Older Woman Syndrome affects women aged 50-plus, with post-retirement a whole other story. (I must have been a late onset case.) We disappear from public view. We are no longer visible in shops, at functions, on the bus, in a queue… We are ignored, just as I was at the make-up counter.
After recovering from the shock of this experience, I began researching this strange syndrome, and found intriguing evidence of its existence.
Having a passion for small business myself, what struck me most is that business owners and staff who either consciously or unconsciously embrace the Invisible Older Woman Syndrome are cutting themselves off from one of the most important and profitable demographic segments in society. There are more Australian women in, or poised to join, the age group of the so-called Invisible Older Woman group than ever before, and we are the wealthiest demographic of women in history – ever.
We have benefitted from the major social and economic shifts of our times and as a result are more active, healthier and longer-living, and have accumulated more wealth than any of our female forebears as a group. We have had (and are still enjoying) career success. The fastest growing group of entrepreneurs is women over 55. That’s me.
We have spending fire-power…
American women aged over 50 have a net worth of $19 trillion, and control more than three-quarters of the country’s financial wealth. (Source – MassMutual Financial Group, 2007). Here in Australia, in the six years to 2014, the wealth of households headed by those 55 to 65 and 65+ year olds increased faster than households in any other age group (Source – Grattan Institute, 2014).
We have influence…
We don’t just make decisions about what we spend on ourselves (like expensive make-up). Women now influence 95% of all purchases, and control 80% of all household spending. Marketers have been very slow to catch on to this idea. Remember when there was a mirror only on the passenger-side visor in cars? Presumably men did the driving, and a vanity mirror was therefore redundant.
Any worthwhile business management training or coaching will include having the business owner drill down into their customer ‘avatar’ – who they are, where they hang out, what age they are and so on. If this is the case, and businesses are doing it correctly, why are older women still being ignored when they are clearly willing to spend money? Why was I left standing, abandoned, at the make-up counter?
Presumably every business owner is looking for a competitive advantage, and this would be an excellent place to start. You could lure customers like me from your competition just by seeing through the invisible cloak and paying attention to us. Or we will all do as I did. I took my American Express card elsewhere.
So next time you see an older woman loitering at your business counter, snap your heels and pay her attention. You just never know how much she is willing to spend.
A version of this article first appeared on smallville.com.au