Our team at Next for Me has spent the last year and a half interviewing and surveying men and women over 50, gaining insight into their thoughts and ambitions around work and finance. They don’t plan to retire at the “traditional” age, either by choice or out of financial necessity. At the same time, there is ageism in the workplace preventing them from finding new work opportunities.
This is particularly an issue for single women over 50. Not-so-uncommon events like a “grey divorce” or the death of a spouse can be financially devastating for women, who need to keep working but find themselves with limited career options. “Ageism is very present for a woman my age,” said one un-partnered interviewee, “It’s frustrating since I still have a lot to contribute.”
While all of this sounds dire, we’ve also observed some promising trends for the 50+ female:
The number of women-owned businesses has increased 3000% since 1972, according to an American Express study, and currently 40% of entrepreneurs in the U.S. are women. Women who took time off to raise children earlier in their career may find that starting a business or other new venture is now an option as their children become more independent or head off to college. When opportunities in the workplace are hard for these women to come by, they can make their own path.
Lisa Napoli told us her 34-year career in journalism stalled when the part-time radio job she loved ended. So she took matters into her own hands and started her own podcast, Gracefully Radio. Wisdom and experience are key when it comes to choosing the right entrepreneurial path. As small business owner Kitty told us, “I’ve been really lucky to encounter some awesome opportunities I’ve taken advantage of that have helped me along the way. I learned a lot.” Older entrepreneurs also benefit from the deep and varied networks they’ve built through the years, who can help with everything from raising capital to sourcing supplies.
Human Resources departments tend to skew younger, and these recruiters can have unconscious age bias. As The Business of Aging’s Lori Bitter says, “I think a lot of people in the agencies who are placing people in jobs are young and I think there is a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of myth around older workers”… like (incorrectly) assuming they’re unwilling to learn new technology or their insurance coverage will be more expensive.
Next for Me has had fruitful conversations with organizations like Hacking HR, a global community of HR professionals dedicated to the future of work, and at events like Tech Inclusion. We’ve introduced ageism to their diversity and inclusion topics, and had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with HR professionals who set their company’s hiring standards.
Although many of the HR pros hadn’t considered the importance of having age-inclusive recruitment and retention policies, we did talk to a couple of recruiters whose own parents were running up against ageism in their job hunts. Our hope is that when ageist policies hit close to home like this for the policy makers, it will lead to changes in HR practices everywhere.
At our meetups across the country, GenX and Boomers have discussed their ambitions and what’s next for them. Though they have concerns, they also have hope. They’re willing to roll up their sleeves to face the challenges of ageism and financial readiness.
After all, they’ve fought for equal rights and social justice for decades. “There is a hugely powerful group of people here all with similar missions,” said one event participant. “What we need to be talking about is how can we partner with each other to reach more people.”
We’ve been encouraged by the enthusiasm of event participants, partners and members of our private community, which is a safe space for women and men over 50 to share their stories and exchange ideas for making the most of their next chapter.
“Not only do I wish to never retire,” says HR Consultant Jo Weech, “I also want to continue to disrupt work as we know it, to help make it better and better for generations to come. I am not alone in this… quest.”
Stria co-hosted an evening on “Myths & Misconceptions: The Truth About 50+ Consumers” with Next for Me and Silvernest. Here’s what we learned.
Stria sponsor Life Reinvented made “The Truth About Older Women” special editorial series possible.