A Colorado small business challenges ageism and the status quo


DENVER — Remember childhood days when revealing your age was shared with such enthusiasm? “I’m five and a half,” you might have said to a friend, really emphasizing the extra sixth months.

A pair of Colorado woman are inviting you to step back into a space where age is celebrated.

“For me, 55 [years old] is the new 55. Mic drop,” laughs Barbara Brooks, who recently turned 55.

“At 40, 50, we still feel like we were starting off. We're not done yet,” adds 48-year-old Guadalupe Hirt.

This duo paired up four years ago to create SecondActWomen (SA|W), a business community that connects women in middlescence as they navigate life, careers and relationships.

“We have this mission of being a pro-age global community that is built on the foundation of advancing women over 40 and 50 plus in every aspect of their life,” said Brooks , while making a quick reference to the 1987 film her generation grew up loving, Dirty Dancing.

“We don’t want to put Baby in the corner! We’ve learned not to do that,” she laughs. 

Hirt and Brooks’ business provides in-person workshops, boot camps and online learning, all while creating the space for thousands of followers to engage. Through Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and other social media platforms — totaling a following of nearly 8,000 people — this group is challenging the idea that women ages 40 and up are past their prime.

“Once I hit 51, that’s when I felt like I was coming into me,” said Brooks – highlighting only then did she feel like she’d had enough life experience to guide her career ambitions.

COVID-19 pandemic brings women together - globally

“When the pandemic hit, women were looking for solace. They were looking for a place to connect,” said Brooks describing the recent increase in social connections. “Suddenly women — hundreds a week — are flocking to our Facebook community. And next thing you know, we're noticing where they're coming from Johannesburg, London, Spain, Australia,” she continued.

Many were considering career and life “swivels” due to furloughs, job uncertainty, or life-reprioritizations over the course of the pandemic.

“I was working part-time and doing full-time sales numbers, and I was picking up and dropping off kids and having all these balls up in the air,” explained Ivette Flower, a 48-year-old who had spent more than a decade in the trade show marketing industry, one that the pandemic hit hard. During this industry downtime, she connected with Brooks and Hirt’s group and built up the courage to make a career change. She is now using what she calls her superpower of helping clients meet their objectives and has started a professional career and life coaching business.

“I now feel like I’m on my way to my TED Talk and to have my business grow,” she said.

Marjorie Wallwey’s journey has been a bit different, but SecondActWomen has been a space for support and continuing education.

“I think I've lost track of how many ‘acts’ I have. I came to entrepreneurship and self-employment unwillingly. I lost my job at 45. It was a job that I had held for 16 years and loved,” she explained.

Brooks teaches a class on Canva, a cloud-based design program

Now, a decade later, she is her own boss and has been for the past few years, growing her skills from the corporate marketing communications world into running her own communications consulting business. With the pandemic came time to learn new skills and make uplifting connections with other women in the same phase of life.

“If you have this little kind of flame, this little idea that says, well, ‘What if I could do this?’ This is the kind of community to hang out in and people will say, ‘Heck yeah, you can.’ And in fact, I'll help you,” she added.

Rocky Mountain PBS met Flower and Wallwey at a recent workshop where Hirt taught money management tips for those starting their own business. Brooks shared her vast knowledge of Canva, a cloud-based design program that many small business owners learn to use on their own.

“Our whole point is to help you get to where you want to go, to help advance you. We have all the soft skills out there, we also have the tech skills,” she explains while highlighting an upcoming partnership with General Assembly — a technical school in Denver — where she hosts many classes.

Creating space to talk about age, women, work & gendered ageism 

Creating intergenerational workspaces starts with acknowledging the skills each employee can bring to an organization.

“There is something to be said [for] the knowledge, the savvy, the wisdom, the zest for life that comes only with age. You can't open a book and teach someone some of the experiences that we learn on the job of life,” shared Hirt, adding that she feels imminent change is coming. 

“There isn't a better time to be alive. We're saying enough with these biases, enough with these ways of looking at people. Let’s be more open-minded and inclusive and see where the world takes us.”

Brooks agreed, adding that age seems to be the one thing left to address. “Ageism is the only ‘ism’ right now that people can effectively laugh about.”

This team’s suggestion?

“We would like to turn the tables and have corporate America look at their DEI [Diversity, Equality and Inclusion] initiatives and say, ‘How are we addressing the age component?’ Because we love, especially as two minority women, the idea that BIPOC, LGBTQ+ is being focused on, that it's a beautiful thing. Now let's add one more: Let's add age.”

Selected for Facebook Community Accelerator program

“It was our Oprah moment,” said Brooks, describing how recent news was almost too good to be true.

Earlier this month, Second Act Women was selected out of over 14,000 applicants as one of 131 worldwide organizations to be included in Facebook’s 2021 Community Accelerator Program (CAP). The program will provide funding, coaching and access to new products to help with community building.

“There is a lot of goodness happening here to help the world really, because each one of these communities have something different they're doing for social good,” said Brooks. “It [The CAP grant] will help us create a bigger approach to what we want to do in fighting general ageism on a global scale; it's helping us take our company to the next level.”

For Second Act Women, that next level will allow them to keep building a community of women, increasing their confidence in the evolving workplace economy.

“It's just about fostering our potential and listening to us and seeing us as invincible … versus invisible. Because we're not going anywhere,” Brooks said.

Hirt continued: “No, we’re not. And that comes down to being a good human, period. Treating everybody the way that they deserve to be treated." 

Editor’s note: Jennifer Castor, the Executive Producer of Multimedia Content at Rocky Mountain PBS, is a 50-year-old, too.  She recently joined the SA|W group after researching stories in the community. Conferences and workshops do have a fee, and many of the classes offered are discounted for virtual attendees. The social media connecting is free.

You can email Jennifer at jennifercastor@rmpbs.org