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Denver-Based Company Helps Women Over 40 'Boldly Step Into Their Second Act'

In a brightly lit office at a coworking space in downtown Denver, female empowerment is on display. Barbara Brooks reads a poster above one of the desks.

"We have 'hashtag ageless' on the wall."

Guadalupe Hirt calls out the next one.

"Hashtag second act."

Brooks and Hirt are friends and business partners but the two couldn't be more different. Brooks, 53, is black and tall with a big personality. Hirt, 46, is Latina, short and more reserved.

"We laugh because she's like the big thinker," Hirt said. "She's like the constant change agent and I'm like the more grounded girl."

They do have one big thing in common. After owning a business, they decided to go back to corporate jobs in their 40s, but nobody hired them.

"I started discovering that I wasn't getting second, third and/or even making it to an interview after several resumes," said Brooks.

In 2018 Brooks, founder, and Hirt, co-founder, started SecondAct|Women. The company's mission is to change the narrative for women over 40 and 50.

"Our organization is really founded to say, 'No, we're barely getting started and we're here and we're a force and we're fierce,'" Hirt said. "We're showing up in both — from a business and a personal life — to really help our women boldly step into their second act."

Credit Stephanie Daniel / KUNC
Brooks and Hirt brainstorm new ideas at their downtown Denver office.

Nearly two out of three workers over 45 have seen or experienced age discrimination at work, according to a 2017 national survey conducted by AARP. Older women, African Americans, Hispanics and those who are unemployed were more likely to feel discriminated against.

"I believe that it may be because in many instances you can get a younger worker with perhaps less experience for a lower salary. So, sometimes it comes down to economic or budget reasons," said Bea Bourne, a marketing professor at Purdue University Global and an intergenerational expert. "I also believe that there are perceptions that older workers are resistant to change."

Credit Purdue University Global
Bea Bourne
Bea Bourne is a marketing professor at Purdue University Global and an intergenerational expert.

From the traditionalists to Generation Z, an unprecedented five generations are all competing for jobs in today's workforce. All these generations have different worldviews, approaches to work and values, according to Bourne, as well as distinct communication styles and varying levels of organizational engagement.

But regardless of age, employees need to keep up with the times.

"We need to continue to stay abreast of current events, what's going in the industry," Bourne said. "Keeping up with the latest technology."

Second Act|Women provides professional and life tools through a variety of programs including an online marketplace, workshop series and Facebook group.

One of the company's first initiatives was launching Biz Life Con, a business and lifestyle conference, which Hirt said was the nation's first. The conference offered pop-up salons, interactive experiences and a variety of workshops from creating a business plan to a making a career change.

"Really kind of (a) great lineup for women to come in and connect with other women and learn elevated information," Hirt said.

Angela Wilson, 47, was laid off in 2012. Rather than job hunting, she chose to stay home to care for her young son who uses a wheelchair. Five years later, Wilson was ready to re-enter the workforce, but couldn't find a job.

"Everything I was going after at the level of my education, my experience and my background would put me here," she said. "But that gap, I got dinged for it."

Credit Stephanie Daniel / KUNC
Second Act|Women provides resources to entrepreneurs like Angela Wilson, 47, who is starting a travel company for people with mobility challenges.

Wilson ended up going to Colorado State University instead to pursue an MBA degree. She graduated and is now creating a travel company for people with mobility challenges. This new chapter led her to Second Act|Women. Wilson attending the company's panel discussion on women starting up after 40 at Denver Startup Week last fall.

The company's core demographic is entrepreneurs.

"It showed that there was a path there that I didn't have to have everything figured out before I moved forward and it actually helped me with my risk averseness," Wilson said. "I just knew if I didn't do it now, it was something I would regret."

The company works with women over 40, but Brooks and Hirt are also empowering themselves. They are entrepreneurs and in one of their previous ventures founded a marketing and public relations consulting firm.

With Second Act|Women, Brooks and Hirt are business partners again. This is their second act.

"It's just beautiful to know that we can help women hopefully find their next thing, hopefully get hired, Brooks said. "Hopefully dispel this ageism thing that we're going through."

The “American Dream” was coined in 1931 and since then the phrase has inspired people to work hard and dream big. But is it achievable today? Graduating from college is challenging, jobs are changing, and health care and basic rights can be a luxury. I report on the barriers people face and overcome to succeed and create a better life for themselves and their families.
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