At 52, Julie hadn't been in the workforce for 13 years. Divorce prompted her to hit restart.

When Julie Stocca turned 52, she found herself in the midst of a restart

It was a new chapter thrust upon her - Julie's marriage had just collapsed, her sons were in the thick of adolescence and she was struggling to cope with all that was changing around her.

Though she previously had a career as a flight attendant, Julie and her now ex-husband had made the decision early on for her to stay at home and raise their two sons. And for years she did exactly that - putting her children's priorities ahead of her own, and forgoing her own work ambitions. It wasn't until her marriage ended that Julie realised she was in an incredibly scary financial position. And with a lengthy divorce settlement ahead of her, Julie was on her own. 

"With 13 years out of the workforce I found myself financially vulnerable. I had nothing to my name, not even a mobile phone. My youngest son was 12, and my eldest was going in Year 11 in high school - it was the perfect storm," Julie said to Mamamia.

This is a story not just specific to Julie. Rather it's an experience that countless women can relate to - finding themselves struggling to secure a stable income and job in their 50s, with little superannuation to rely on. Because financial dependence on a man doesn't happen overnight. It creeps up on you.

Watch: Quick money tips from What The Finance, Mamamia's podcast helping women navigate the financial side of everyday life. Post continues below.

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The next few years were tough for Julie. 

With the divorce proceedings taking years to finalise, Julie was strapped for cash, and began working part-time cleaning rental properties for a real estate agency.

"I used to be very confident, but after my divorce I couldn't believe the new circumstance I found myself in. I had no self-esteem, and was a shadow of my former self. My eldest son is a very bright boy, so he had an academic scholarship at a private school. It was tough for us, going to those private school functions, having to put up a good front," Julie reflected.

"Little did they know we had very little money and I was a cleaner."

Realising the need to upskill in order to secure a stable income, Julie made the decision to enroll herself in a TAFE outreach course called Working Opportunities for Women. It taught Julie all the new skills she needed - basic computer skills, mock interviews, financial literacy, a module on resume writing and confidence building. 

"I'm a country girl who left school when I was 16. I was very bright in school and could have gone on to do great things, but my future and the possibility of a career was never considered as an option for me. Computer literacy also terrified me as a woman in her 50s who hadn't grown up using this sort of technology - it was overwhelming."

At the end of the outreach course, the women were invited to go to Dress For Success Sydney so that they could be given clothes to wear to future job interviews.


When Julie walked into Dress For Success, she was nervous. She had almost chickened out of going. She didn't think she was 'in need enough' to have an opportunity like this.

But she was the perfect candidate. 

"I seemed to have in my head that it was only for women living on the fringes or coming out of incarceration. I knew there were women worse off than me. But I really was part of their demographic - I didn't have any money, I had no self-confidence, nor did I have any work-attire clothes and I had no idea what to wear to a job interview," Julie said to Mamamia.

When Julie arrived, she immediately felt safe. She felt accepted. And loved. 

"I went into the shop and along came these beautiful volunteers - it felt like a big, warm hug. They gave me a reassuring touch on the shoulder, asked if I was okay and rolled out lots and lots of different outfits."

Julie went into the changing room to try on one outfit - and when she looked in the mirror she finally saw 'the old Julie'. The woman who had been happy, confident and sure of herself. 

Julie in her first Dress For Success outfit back in 2015, and Julie today. Images: Supplied. "I immediately burst into tears. They gave me this beautiful printed dress, a blazer/coat, some jewellery and a red patent leather handbag. I felt like a million bucks. When I came home with all these things I tried it all on at home and showed my boys - they said I looked beautiful."


For the next 12 months, Julie did some further workshops with Dress For Success, and then she felt ready to apply for a full-time job.

"I wore the exact outfit Dress For Success had gifted me 12 months before. The interview went really well - I was worried they would want someone younger, and someone who had stronger computer skills. But I had done all the workshops and courses I could, plus I had the life skills and experience - and that got me the job," Julie said. 

Of course, not everyone gets the job in a scenario like this. And ageism is a barrier in the workforce, particularly for middle-aged women.

Sally Sinclair, the CEO of National Employment Services Association, said to Mamamia that the barriers older women face in gaining employment are multi-faceted.


"They are a key cohort discriminated against in the workforce as they are covered under general ageism but also compounded in gender discrimination. It is typically a result of skills and training issues, specifically in digital literacy but also the perception that women are carers. I've seen recent studies find things like older women over 50 are the biggest cohort in Australia impacted by homelessness and that women with children are far less likely to receive a call back from an employer," Sally explained.

"Employers need to be educated around the value that older women can bring to their workforce and drop unconscious bias. On the other side of the coin, they must be also open to educating this cohort too. As a society, we must do better in this space. "

Julie feels incredibly grateful that she was given that chance to show her value to her new employer. And she stayed with that company for over six years, before applying for a role as office administrator at Dress For Success Sydney last December - which she got!

It was a full circle moment for Julie.

Listen to 8 Minutes To Change Your (Work) Life. Post continues after audio.

"I see these women come into the store and I know what it feels like to be in their position. I don't know where I would be now if I hadn't of walked through those same doors years ago."

In this new role as office administrator and an advocate speaker, Julie has spoken with women from all walks of life - women struggling financially, women who are homeless, and women who have fled domestic violence situations. 


And seeing them regain their confidence means everything to the whole Dress For Success team.

"One woman came through the store the other day and she looked scared. After speaking with her, she said she had experienced a panic attack before coming and hadn't looked at herself in the mirror since 2017. We told her she was in the right place - and indeed she was. When she came out of the change room, she had a newfound confidence - she was standing proud. And she looked in the mirror and I took a photo for her. She felt beautiful."

Julie now feels hopeful for the future. And considering where she was at seven years ago, that's something to celebrate.

"I bought myself an apartment last year, the last cog in the wheel so to speak. I now have somewhere I can call my own again. I don't know when retirement will be, I've still got a long way to go. But I'm very happy and independent."

And that's a feeling that Julie wishes for all women who have found themselves in the midst of a restart. To find themselves, their happiness, and their financial future. 

"I've now just turned 59 and I know I've been through hell and back - my boys and I have risen above the adversity," Julie said. 

"I'm proud of them, but I also know they're very proud of me."

To donate to Dress For Success Sydney, you can visit their website

Feature Image: Supplied.

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