Senior sales executive Karen has just celebrated her 50th birthday, but there was no cake or cards at her workplace.
After more than a decade at the well-known multinational company, her colleagues still don’t have a clue of her date of birth — and that’s the way she plans to keep it.
“I’ve never actually lied about my age at work,” she says. “But I’m not exactly shouting it from the rooftops either.
“I’m working alongside women in their early 20s who are straight out of college. Most assume that I’m in my early 40s — and I’m not about to contradict them.”
With a wardrobe and figure to rival her younger cubicle buddies, the mum-of-two from Dublin relies on biannual Botox sessions to help shave almost a decade off her CV.
As the state pension age creeps towards 68 over the next 12 years, she’s not the only one undergoing a ‘career lift’, according to one of Ireland’s top cosmetic surgeons.
“Ninety per cent of the patients I see would be female and, within that, the majority would be 40 to 50 years of age,” says Dr Peter Prendergast, medical director of Venus Medical in Dundrum.
“Many of them are successful women in high positions in corporations [such as] CEOs.
“The recurring theme would be that they feel good, but they don’t look how they feel.
"Many of them would have children at home as well, so they haven’t maybe had the time to look after themselves as much as they would have wanted to, and are starting to notice the frown lines and dark circles under their eyes.”
Baby doses of Botox, skin-brightening facials, and barely-there filler are just some of the ‘tweakments’ reportedly being sought out by professional women in the battle to prove they’re not ‘finished at 50’, as some recent reports suggest.
At River Medical on Dublin’s Lower Baggot Street, early morning and late-night appointments, in particular, are at a premium among female patients in their late 30s right into their 60s.
“The 8.30am appointment is really busy if you want to be in and out,” says clinic manager Aisling Cleary, a registered general nurse. “And our evening appointments are as scarce as hen’s teeth. It’s very professional, especially in the evenings when they’re all professionals.
“I’ve had some female clients come in in between changing jobs and having a few little bits and pieces done,” she continues.
“They kind of make a conscious decision, ‘Will I go down to Brown Thomas and buy a pair of shoes or will I invest in my face?’ Then they have a plan and pop in a couple of times a year.”
At 56, ‘supermum’ Miriam O’Callaghan is busier than ever as she prepares to step into the shoes of Saturday night chat show host Ray D’Arcy for the summer.
But the RTÉ star previously insisted in an interview that she would never go under the knife to prolong her TV career: “I dye my hair, I wear make-up, I’ve had my teeth whitened, I spend money on face creams.
“I’m proactive and I want to go on like that, but I won’t go under the knife… it makes everyone look like they’ve been through a wind tunnel.”
However, with the most recent CSO figures showing that 17,000 Irish women aged 45to 59 are unemployed, psychologist Dr Kimberly Fitzgerald told Feelgood she isn’t surprised others opt for a little nip/tuck on more than just their résumé.
“Women are under pressure to look younger and ageism is just getting worse,” says Dr Fitzgerald of South Dublin Coaching.
“What I’ve seen a lot over the past few years, especially where there have been a lot of redundancies, [is] women who are higher-level professionals having to put the extra effort in just to look younger.
“I’m seeing a lot of people at that age, sometimes their kids have grown up, and they want to fit in with the younger group.
“I’ve seen a lot of women go back for boob jobs as a boost in their 40s. You’d see it a lot more, of course, in public-facing type roles — marketing is a big one.”
Inspired by such ageless idols as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (46), House of Cards star Robin Wright (50) and cosmetics magnate Bobbi Brown (59), River Medical’s Aisling Cleary explained how the ‘career lift’ set want to look youthful — not young.
Botulinum toxin jabs start from €275 at the city-centre clinic, while radio frequency skin tightening costs upwards of €600. “Irish women want ‘subtle’,” she says. “They’re not chasing eternal youth, and the last thing they want to do is try and look like a 20-year-old.
“Age is rarely spoken about because when someone comes in for a consultation and they start speaking about age [wanting to look younger] you’re kind of going,’Uh-oh’. You are what age you are.
“Our most popular for women in that age bracket would be obviously Botox and filler, but skin tightening is huge at the moment. They’re not trying to deny their age; it’s more like, ‘I just want to look good for my age’.”
Dr Peter Prendergast of Venus Medical — where Botox is also the best-selling treatment — agrees: “Because the women are busy in their careers they want minimal downtime and they want to look natural. That is something that almost everybody says during the consultation.
“It’s very important for them to be able to go back to work soon — that’s why they opt for less invasive procedures that don’t involve bandages. They don’t want people to think that they’ve had anything done, necessarily; they just [want to] look fresher and more rested.”
While one recent survey by Nivea Q10 plus found that smiling takes more than two years off a woman’s age, now some are going the extra smile to appear even younger.
Around half of Seapoint Clinic’s client base is professional women aged 40-plus splashing out on costly cosmetic work such as veneers and implants.
“We often see women coming in looking for dental treatments in tandem with cosmetic work,” says Dan Siberry of the Dublin dentistry practice based in Blackrock.
“It’s usually the more heavy-duty stuff getting to that stage of their lives, [things like] missing teeth, so it’s usually a big spend.
“Expectations are high these days. People are very wary of getting something that looks like car headlights, really fake and chunky.
“We actually give them a [photographic] mock-up which is a little like trying on a set of teeth.
“When someone’s got a new set of teeth it changes their whole appearance,” he adds. “It’s like winding back the clock by ten years.”
Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly was left with little to smile about when she was suddenly dropped from the BBC One rural affairs show after eight years in 2009.
The 59-year-old from Dublin later successfully sued the corporation for age discrimination, claiming she had been asked if it was ‘time for Botox’.
“Being dropped from the programme, I believe because of my age and sex, really affected my confidence,” she said at the time.
Here at home, a staggering 87% of jobseekers aged over 55 feel their age has stopped them from getting work, according to William Fry’s 2016 Employment Report on Age in the Workplace.
However, Kerry-based HR consultant Caroline McEnery insists that being wrinkle-free doesn’t always give women “an edge” in the workplace.
“Obviously, everybody wants to look their best,” says the managing director of The HR Suite: “Other than looking their best though, I can’t say I’ve experienced people going to those lengths [cosmetic treatments] or that that would give them an edge in any way. I think employers are very aware of their obligations in terms of making sure they don’t discriminate [based on age or sex].
“It would be unrealistic to say age is never going to be a factor but, obviously, there’s redress there and the legislation is very clear if you feel you have been unfairly treated.
“We strongly advise people to go and get feedback on why you weren’t successful, and you’re fully entitled to get that feedback.
“At the end of the day, age is never going to be a deciding factor for the person who’s trying to get the best fit for the job.”
Although she’s not against women going under the needle to boost their confidence or even their career, Dr Kimberly Fitzgerald advised trying a more “inside-out” approach first.
“It’s amazing how much stress and strain shows up in the skin,” she says. “I mean, I’m in my 40s myself — all of a sudden you look in the mirror and you’re worn out. You’re tired.
“But there are other ways you can make yourself look and feel better — the inside stuff.
“It’s up to women,” she reckons. “If that [cosmetic treatment] is what feels right, try it as long as it’s not overboard and you can afford it.”
For Karen, who spends around €1,000 a year on putting her best face forward in the office, it’s about confidence rather than competence.
“I haven’t experienced any ageist comments at work,” she concedes. “If I’m going to end up working for the next 18 or 20 years though, I want to look as energetic as I feel.
“I’ve gone for social media training and regularly update my CV to make sure I’m as employable as possible.
“Personally, I feel investing in my appearance is just an extension of that.”
Accentuate the positive
Get a career lift without going under the knife:
Work the whole ‘older and wiser’ thing to your advantage. For instance, you may have an address book bulging with contacts that a younger candidate can’t offer.
You don’t have to succumb to surgery to look and feel your best — something as simple as a good hair cut can help boost your confidence and put your best foot forward in the office.
Competing against today’s ‘digital natives’, being ‘hopeless with technology’ isn’t an option —so be sure to work on your Twitter and LinkedIn profiles as much as your CV.
Seek out older female mentors in your field. Discovering all their secrets to success could be the key to ensuring that you, too, are not ‘finished at 50’.
Dress for success. Try to look ageless by ditching the dizzying heels and heavy makeup for a pared-back look that’s more ‘girl boss’ than ‘girl band’.
There is no need to reveal your age it in the first place. Remember you’re not obliged to put your date of birth on your CV and it’s illegal for a recruiter to ask.