AS stereotypes about age, parental roles, and career possibilities break down, more and more women over age 30 are reaching for -- and achieving -- professional goals not realized in years past. Janet Janson, Judith Kaur, and Donna D. Epp are three such women. Mrs. Janson is an auditing supervisor at the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand, Dr. Kaur teaches medicine at the University of North Dakota, and Mrs. Epp runs a thriving sewing business. All three women recently received Clairol Rising Star Awards, established to spotlight special role models who personify what women over 30 across the country are doing to change their lives for the better. The awards are sponsored by Clairol and the National Women's Economic Alliance Foundation, which reviewed 600 nominations for the honor.
The road upward was not a smooth one for these three.
Janet Janson quit school in the 10th grade. By the time she was 2l, she was married with three children. She also helped run the family farm while her husband worked in town.
``We worked hard and we made do,'' she says wryly, referring to those difficult years. After a series of personal tragedies and problems, she divorced after 18 years of marriage and took a job as a receptionist in a doctor's office. It was then that she decided to go back to school to get her high school diploma and take college courses at the same time.
Mrs. Janson's grades were so high that she was able to enroll at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio (still without a high school diploma), and she graduated with honors in accounting. While working as accounting manager for the Ohio State Life Insurance Company, she went on to get her MBA (master's in business administration). Later she qualified as a CPA (certified public accountant).
How did she manage it? ``With the help of student loans, and with the support of my children and my second husband [high school principal David Janson], who literally pushed me out the door saying, `You have always wanted an education, now get out there and get it. We will all manage.' ''
When she finished school, some people said, ``Don't even try for a job. You're too old, as you will soon find out. The companies all want 22-year-olds.'' But Mrs. Janson says she was hired for her current job at one of the Big Eight accounting firms ``precisely because I wasn't 22, and because I could bring the background to the job that only someone with my maturity and experience could muster.''
When Dr. Kaur of Bismarck, N.D., applied to medical school, most applications had printed on them ``No one over 25 years of age should apply.'' But Mrs. Kaur, married and with a young daughter, went ahead with her plans. ``I was a woman, a wife and mother, a former schoolteacher, and a native American -- Cherokee and Choctaw Indian,'' she says. ``But I was accepted.'' In addition to teaching, she is associated with the Mid Dakota Clinic in Bismarck.
Dr. Kaur, like Mrs. Janson, received support from her family. Her husband, Alan Kaur, an insurance consultant, was willing not only to do a lot of child-caring while she was in medical school but also to change jobs so he could move with her to new locations.
Although she remarks that ``I am not as visibly a minority woman as some,'' Dr. Kaur stays extremely sensitive to the needs and general health problems of the Indians in her area. These problems, she points out, are ``not always well appreciated by other professionals. So I am pleased that I can provide consultant services for many of the Indians in this area, and I remain involved with the American Association of Indian Physicians.''
Mrs. Epp, president of Creative Fabric Design Ltd., New York, took a different route toward her success. In May 1983, this mother of four enrolled in a course on how to start one's own business. She took it, she says, as a form of therapy, because she had just lost a five-year-old daughter. She also wanted to establish an independent activity for herself, separate from her role as wife and mother.
Then, having been taught to sew as a child and with plenty of experience behind her, she teamed up with a friend and started a small sewing business out of her basement, designing and creating decorator window treatments for the decorating trade only. Today, the business has grown to a full-scale factory/workroom in Deer Park, Long Island. Epp and her partner employ a staff of 10 full-time workers and frequently use subcontractors as well.
At the Clairol awards ceremony, all three women spoke of the richness of both their school and work experiences and how these had enriched their family lives. Each noted the value of learning to make her own decisions, set her own goals, and then accept, with some measure of grace, her own success.