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Midlife is often a time for introspection, when people begin wondering if the things they do for fun could be a viable career.adamkaz

Less fear, more ambition. Less apology, more confidence.

These are some of the words of wisdom from women over 50 who ditched steady jobs and financial security to pursue their passions through entrepreneurship.

Lisa MurphyShannon Laliberte

Hitting 50 often serves as a wake-up call for men and women, says Lisa Murphy, 52, a Toronto-based digital content strategist who runs @50forwardclub on Instagram. The feed celebrates women over 50 “taking new directions and doing new things in their lives.”

She notes that midlife is often a time for introspection. “Many [people] ask themselves, ‘Is the work I am doing meaningful?’ and they start looking to see if the things they do in their spare time – for fun – could be a viable career.”

Ms. Murphy quit her job at 50 when she realized climbing the corporate ladder had become tedious, launching a freelance content marketing and digital strategy business. She hopes @50forwardclub will provide inspiration and wisdom to women of all ages.

“I think it’s important to give some real thought to what your goals are and who you want to be in the next 5-10 years,” she says. “Because, if you don’t, you [may] realize you’re on a treadmill going nowhere. You can live a much fuller life than you may imagine possible.”

‘If not now, when?’

For Loo McNulty, an artist and graphic designer based in Collingwood, Ont., entering midlife was cathartic. A few months before she turned 50, she got sober.

Loo McNultyJessica Crandlemire

“Being in my 50s allows me to visit five decades of my life and mine all of the experience, knowledge and information to craft this playbook where I have clarity,” says Ms. McNulty, who is now 52. “I feel I am at a set-point [in life] to make all the things happen.”

Last year, she launched Happy Just Happy, a lifestyle brand including greeting cards and stationery items with colourful, whimsical artwork. She’s also the owner of the Loo McNulty Designs, a surface printing company. She launched her business in December, wearing multiple hats during the pandemic: illustrator, marketer, salesperson, accountant. But when she realized she couldn’t do it all alone, she sought help from others in her circle.

Her advice? “Own your power and truly and utterly believe in yourself,” Ms. McNulty says. “Turn your thoughts [into] action. If not now, when? Do more of the things that make you alive.”

From the kitchen to e-commerce

Imagine trying to sell lipstick during a pandemic.

“It has been hard, to be honest,” said Basmatee Shah, 51, founder and owner of Lipcandy. “The one cosmetic people aren’t wearing during COVID-19 is lipstick because of the mask.”

Basmatee ShahSupplied

Just before she turned 50, Ms. Shah was working as a senior executive at a Toronto-based media company. Having concluded she wasn’t happy at her job, she and her husband decided to use a portion of their financial nest egg to kick-start Lipcandy in 2018.

Initially, Ms. Shah had no clue about manufacturing or marketing cosmetics, but she was an avid consumer, so she let that guide her. She researched and developed Lipcandy artisanal lipsticks, gloss, and balms made from natural ingredients such as castor, coconut and chia seed oils, making them in her kitchen.

Ms. Shah reached out to shopping malls across the GTA to set up a pop-up store. Many turned her down, but she finally received a “yes” from a major mall.

Still employed at the media company at the time, Ms. Shah asked her supervisor’s permission to use all her unused vacation to launch her business but was turned down. So, she quit her job and two days later was greeting customers at her new pop-up store. The hours were long, but she was happy, she says.

Now, she sells products on her own e-commerce site as well as department stores and consumer shows.

“Anybody can start a business these days because the world’s opened up digitally,” Ms. Shah notes. “My advice to others interested in becoming entrepreneurs is to test out the market to see if there’s a demand for your product and ensure you have some financial security before you quit your job.”

The path to reinvention

Wendy MayhewSupplied

Ottawa entrepreneur and author Wendy Mayhew, 71, realized early in her career that she didn’t like working for anyone. So, she set out on an entrepreneurial journey which has had its share of ups and downs along the ways.

“One of my early businesses – a mini office complex – was a disaster,” says Ms. Mayhew, author of Wiser: The Definitive Guide to Starting a Business After the Age of 50. “It was very difficult and devastating for my family. I went back to work for somebody, but when that didn’t work out, I started my business, Mayhew and Associates. I grew it into a multi-million-dollar business.”

Ms. Mayhew, who has also authored two textbooks and series of videos on entrepreneurship with McGraw-Hill Ryerson, says that while business setbacks can be challenging to face at any age, it’s important to look at them as lessons rather than failures.

For women looking to reinvent themselves as entrepreneurs after 50, she gives these five essential pieces of advice:

  • Weigh each aspect of entrepreneurship carefully before jumping in
  • Ask for help. There are small business organizations in every city and province. Make use of their resources, grants and connections.
  • Be coachable. Entrepreneurship means you must constantly learn new aspects of running a business.
  • Be prepared to spend some of your own money because grants won’t cover everything.
  • Share your experiences and help others.

Ask Women and Work

Have a question about your work life? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.

QUESTION: I’m a woman of colour working in a mid-sized organization. My employers have in recent months announced their intentions to strengthen their diversity and inclusion efforts. I applaud their decision, but it’s created a complex problem for me. They continually include me on emails about initiatives, they’ve asked me to help put together a workshop for employees and contribute to DE&I language/materials. At first, I was happy to be asked, but it’s become a lot of work on top of my real job and I’m not being compensated for the extra time and labour. However, I am the only woman of colour in the office and I’m reluctant to complain when they seem to be working so hard on something that is important to me. How should I handle this?

We asked Shavonne Hasfal-McIntosh, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Wealthsimple to field this one:

I’ll start by saying that I have seen this happen countless times within organizations and although not necessarily intentionally done, the additional cognitive and emotional labour that is expected from people who are oftentimes from underrepresented communities free of charge is a ‘no’ for me.

There’s actually a term for this that was coined by a software engineer named Tanya Reilly. It’s called glue work, “The less glamorous and often less promotable work that contributes to both team and organizational success.” Simply put, the work that is valuable to an organization, but isn’t valued. Overtime glue work can create inequities in labour, especially if it is not explicitly considered when it comes to evaluating a person’s performance and compensation.

My first piece of advice would be to check in with yourself to assess your bandwidth. It’s totally okay for you to do your job without having to take on guiding your organization along this journey. If you do decide that this is something you want to explore, I would start by using this as a teaching/coaching moment for your leaders, where you can let them know about glue work, the ways it impacts folks from underrepresented communities and the ways they can avoid perpetuating systems of oppression by intentionally setting this work up for success. Ask them if they have thought about the role they are going to play in setting this work up for success long-term.

Also, let them know that DEI work requires resources and a budget. Whether that is creating bonuses for folks internally who will be contributing to the work or outsourcing consultants, like any business priority, there needs to be a level of investment made.

If your leaders aren’t willing to budge on any of the above, I would tell you to save your time and energy. Although their intention is to invest and strengthen DEI, if they aren’t open to doing it in an equitable, inclusive, and sustainable way, it may end up being more harmful than helpful. If you are looking to create change within the communities you belong to, there are so many organizations that you can get involved with.

I’ll end with some real talk. Although DEI committees, engaging with employees and employee resource groups are fantastic ways to help guide and inform this work, it does not replace the level of expertise that an organization can get by working with a practitioner. It may be time for your organization to consider a dedicated employee for a DEI role or working with a consultancy to help create a proper strategy to really anchor this work and set it up for success.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope that you feel like you have some more information to make the right decision for YOU.

Interested in more perspectives about women in the workplace? Find all stories on the hub here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter here. Have feedback on the series? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.