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Rise of the 'Career Lift': Would you have a nip/tuck to keep your job?

Rise of the 'Career Lift': Would you have a nip/tuck to keep your job?

2016, The Telegraph

Career facelift

Caroline has a mane of shiny, dirty blonde hair, great skin, firm cheeks, a gleaming smile, a leather jacket and lean limbs. At first glance, it’s very difficult to place her age. And that’s just how she likes it. Caroline, who works in finance at a senior level, recently celebrated her 50th birthday. Not that anyone in her office knows that. ‘Yes, I lie about my age at work,’ she says. ‘People think I’m in my early 40s.’ Why does she do it? ‘Because it’s a brutally ageist world out there, and it’s hardest of all for women. So what if I cheat a little? I’m just doing what I have to do to carry on in a career I love and am bloody good at.’ 

For Caroline, ‘doing what she has to do’ involves regular appointments at a discreet London clinic for the kind of super-stealth procedures – ‘tweakments’ – that ensure her face matches her very slightly edited CV. From the babiest doses of Botox to non-surgical facelifts, these no-downtime, no-knife, subtly rejuvenating procedures have been dubbed by London cosmetic surgeon Angelica Kavouni ‘the Career Lift’. For some women, it’s just another weapon in the battle to prove they aren’t, as a slew of recent reports suggest, ‘finished at 50’.

Ageism and sexism are a toxic cocktail for women. Last year, figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed the number of unemployed women over 50 has risen by 45 per cent since 2010. And with the state pension age rising to 66 by 2020, many women have no choice but to continue trying to keep their careers afloat. But it’s not easy. Even – indeed especially – if you are a high-flyer.

Last year, Dr Ros Altmann, the Government’s business champion for older workers, published a report called A New Vision for Older Workers. In it she describes being told by an HR executive that, ‘talent progression stops for women around age 45’, which is at least 10 years earlier than for men.

Altmann said, ‘When it comes to older women’s work, the real barriers are in higher paid and more senior roles. It seems that many women do not progress in their careers due to outdated stereotypes, ageist or sexist attitudes that prize looks over ability, and lack of understanding or support for older women’s particular issues.’

“My patients want to inhabit the “no age zone”, where they could be anything between 35 and 55” Angelica Kavouni

Angelica Kavouni says she’s noticed a sharp increase in high-earning, international female patients who lie about their age at work. They are open with Kavouni about motivation for their treatments. ‘They tell me that it literally helps buy them 20 more years in their career,’ she says. ‘It’s almost like a survival kit.’ But isn’t that shocking?  ‘Maybe,’ she concedes, ‘Certainly it’s not a happy situation, but they are very realistic about the world they inhabit.’ Given that studies show productivity doesn’t actually slow until workers hit 70, another solution is just to fudge the facts.  In the UK, some recruitment companies routinely manipulate the CVs of older women to boost their employment prospects by condensing a lifetime’s career experience into 15 years, and removing dates from qualifications. Kavouni says that for some of her patients, particularly those in the ‘important years of 45 to 50’ when ageing tends to accelerate, she fulfils a similar role.

‘What my patients want,’ she explains, ‘is not to try to look ridiculously young, but to inhabit the “no age zone”, where they could, in the right light, be almost any age between 35 and 55.’ Their age should almost be the last thing you think about when you meet them.’

Ageless idols include cosmetics tycoon Bobbi Brown, 59, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, 46, Net-A-Porter founder Natalie Massenet, 50, Apple vice-president Angela Ahrendts, 55, and J Crew president Jenna Lyons, 45 – all of whom share a naturally healthy, youthful-but-not-young look.

Favourite treatments with the Career Lift Set include micro-droplets of Botox (which House of Cards actress Robin Wright describes as ‘sprinkles’) across the forehead and around the eyes – which don’t last as long as conventional Botox and look more natural – and the £2,200 Silhouette Soft procedure, which uses dissolvable threads to lift jowls and cheeks without the downtime of surgery, although results only last a year to 18 months. Skin-tightening treatments that deliver radio-frequency energy via hair-fine needles to stimulate collagen (so no recovery time, or scars) are also popular. 

Demand for the Career Lift is high.  Apprentice winner Dr Leah Totton was ahead of the curve in picking a City of London location for her first clinic. ‘While I do see men, my patients are predominantly female corporate professionals aged between 35 and 60,’ she says. ‘They want to look well-rested and fresh, rather than altered.’ She keeps her clinic open late, as ‘they like to come in after work’. 

“By opting for the syringe and the laser, women can make themselves part of the problem rather than the solution”

As Dr Totton says, this is not an issue that only concerns women. According to Dr Vicky Dondos of Medicetics, historically it has been men who have sought surgery for career-related reasons, particularly in the finance sector. ‘Women, on the other hand, wanted treatment for themselves, to enjoy looking in the mirror. Now they often talk about the benefits they’re enjoying at work.’

Angelica Kavouni, meanwhile, has noticed that while women tend to ask for intervention in their 40s, the male clients she sees cite work as an issue in their 50s and 60s.

But can altering your appearance ever really be the answer to ageism? Annabel Kaye, 58, is a successful lawyer and founder of employment law company Irenicon. She says that while ‘sex and age discrimination is very real’, by opting for the syringe and the laser, women can make themselves part of the problem rather than the solution.  ‘I’m not judging anyone,’ she says, ‘but if women buy into the idea that if they don’t look young then they are no good, they can make themselves participants in a culture of discrimination as well as the victims of it,’ she says. Kaye admits that she too has felt the pressure to look young.

“The worst thing about identifying as a victim is that it is deadly for your self-confidence and stops you being proactive” Annabel Kaye

‘A few years ago, I started making videos for my website. When I saw myself on screen, I had a bit of a crisis about my looks. I even considered having something done before I realised I had to get a grip. Botox or surgery is expensive, constantly has to be redone, and it doesn’t change anything about who you are. I had to remind myself that I’m not a model or actress. I am paid for my brain, not my face.’ She adds, ‘I did learn how to use make-up for the first time in my life, though.’

Kaye says she has recently seen a rise in women who have lost their jobs and who are convinced it is as a result of age discrimination. ‘But in several cases it was because they flatly refused to get to grips with social media or new technology.’  Other women, she says, ‘Don’t network, don’t keep their CV updated, or rely on agencies to find them jobs, some of which are often more subconsciously ageist than companies themselves.’ 

She adds, ‘The worst thing about identifying as a victim is that it is deadly for your self-confidence and stops you being proactive. Make a conscious decision to stop thinking like this. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”’