Forty years in the workforce. Hundreds of millions of dollars in buying power. Vast and varied experience. And a strong desire to continue to contribute and be productive. Who are we? We are women of the twenty-first century. Having changed the working world, we now want to disrupt the meaning of retirement.
From the start, we have been at the forefront of change, change that made our careers possible. Coming up, with few role models, we forged a path and paved the way for future generations. To be successful, we had to break through the most basic stereotype of “women’s work”— something temporary to fill the gap between school and marriage. We confronted discrimination, both subtle and not. We rose to the challenge of having to work harder and prove more. We did everything our male colleagues did but, like Ginger to Fred, backwards and in high heels. We demonstrated that women provide critical and alternative perspectives on people, problems and processes.
Working professionally full-time and outside the home for many years, in jobs we loved, made us different. Over time, our influence was acknowledged and appreciated. At work, we were at the table. Outside of work, we required new products and services. We wanted elegant suits and shoes in bright colors, and we preferred tote bags to briefcases. Grocery stores opened earlier and closed later to accommodate our schedules. An image of our own emerged that was different from that of working men or of women whose work was mainly at home.
As long as we stayed at the office, we were a highly visible and valued component of the diversifying work force. Now that we are out of the office, however, it is widely supposed that we are no longer the women we once were. Beyond the institutions that structured our lives for so long and that we helped to reinvent and revitalize, suddenly and unexpectedly we have become invisible.
Why do we care? The answer is, we care because we understand the power of images. Good ones can help you advance. You feel good about yourself and others feel good about you. Bad ones hold you back and diminish you. You don’t value yourself, and others don’t value you either. Bad images rob you of opportunity and possibility.
The stereotype that has now been imposed on us says that we want to take it easy, rest on our laurels, and just smell the roses. It describes us as women who are done with the world in which we worked for so long. It says that we don’t want to be—and maybe can’t be—as engaged and active and interested and interesting as we were yesterday. And it even says that we no longer care. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What happens when we challenge this stereotype as we have challenged so many others? What if we replace it with the positive image we have earned? What happens when we become visible again?
First, because we feel good about ourselves and because the world at large recognizes our value and potential, businesses, governments, NGOs and other organizations recognize us as a vital new component of the labor force. They see that our knowledge and vast experience can be put to good use. We are efficient and effective. We know the short cuts. We can identify and resolve problems. We manage when no one else can imagine how. Experience counts.
Perhaps most importantly, together we discover ways to engage this new labor force. Let’s be imaginative about how to use our collective attributes: intelligence, experience, relationships, style. If some of us want to continue working, either at full- or at part-time jobs, let’s find ways to do that. If some of us prefer to work on discrete issues or initiatives, let’s find ways to do that, too.
Imagine: What could we bring to a media campaign to counter fake news? How could we help companies assess new risks? What could we do to assist start-ups in making their case to venture capitalists? How could we help rebuild our failing school systems? Whatever the challenge, legions of us have been there, done that. Project-based employment, using our kinds of knowledge, judgment and experience, can be a new kind of engagement for everyone.
Second, as more of us reach retirement and our numbers increase, our collective purchasing power continues to grow. For the first time in our lives, we have both time and some money. As we become visible, the market once again focuses on meeting our wants and needs. Where once our shopping was necessarily on the Internet, shopping in brick and mortar stores with attentive sales people now holds great appeal. We want stylish clothes that fit our current age and status. Is there a version of Airbnb that would better suit us?
Third, we become a political force. We care deeply about politics because we know it affects everything. We vote. We read. We follow the news, closely. We have the time to formulate mature views based on facts, and with the lens of decades of experience in the business world, we recognize propaganda. If we mobilize (again), we can achieve outcomes to be proud of.
In developing this agenda, we are not suggesting we want to live in the past or to relive our accomplishments. Instead we are proposing an image that reflects who we are now so that we can create a more fulfilling future. Fortunately, our years of experience have equipped us to face this challenge with wisdom and perseverance. What we seek now is, after all, not so very different from what we sought when we started our careers—an image that makes us visible to everyone and is true to who we are.
Together, we have a world to make and the power to make it.
To read more, please visit the Lustre website.