Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the 85 Broads Power Luncheon that hosted Anne-Marie Slaughter as the keynote at New York's Harvard Club. In addition to being in the company of so many brilliant women, hearing Slaughter speak was truly eye-opening and perspective altering. I have written before on Slaughter, and while we don't agree on all work/life matters, I truly value her insight and position.
During the talk, there was one point that especially interested me, and I have been mulling over it ever since. And while I think she is onto something, I believe there is an important point missing in her assertion.
Slaughter emphasized the importance of women taking into account their life expectancy when thinking about their career. And, she's right. Perhaps it's an unconventional thought, but a legitimate consideration. According to data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, in 1955, the life expectancy for Americans was 69.6 years. By 1995, it had increased to 75.8 years. By 2005, life expectancy had increased to 77.9 years. Yet the way we work, and our retirement plans, general ideas and systems have remained fundamentally the same, all these years... and with a hard stop at age 65. But that's at least 12 years of income unaccounted for. And reports from the Social Security Administration project that about one out of four 65-year-olds today will live past the age of 95.
In terms of funding what can almost be called a "second life," expanding well beyond what we have always thought of the traditional retirement age, Slaughter is on the mark. And with inflation rates and depleted savings and retirement accounts, dwindled by the economic situation of recent years, the matter is even more pressing.
But, here is where our opinions diverge. Slaughter offered up the idea that it's OK for women to work, take time off to raise a family and then re-enter the workforce, perhaps even in a different field, and continue to work her way to the top. I think this is a wonderful idea in theory, and I support whole-heartedly any woman's right to work, not work or choose any career path she desires. But, I think Slaughter is painting an unrealistic picture of workforce re-entry in particular. It's not that simple.
To stay competitive and reach your potential in a workforce that you're likely going to have to be a part of much longer that you originally imagined, you can't ever really take your "toe out of the water" -- words imparted by my mother, who faced the same issue. At Mom Corps, we work with women who took time off to raise their children and now that their kids are older, are finding re-entry very difficult. It's an unfortunate and oft ignored reality.
Organizations want great talent, that's hardly debatable. A resume gap, no matter how polished or experienced and respected a professional was before a hiatus, meets with hesitation from a hiring manager. Technological advances alone, over even a short period out of work, can make a professional seem outdated. Age discrimination, even though outlawed by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), is still a very real job-search disabler. A recent AARP survey found that one-third to one-half of Baby Boomers had experienced age bias in a job search.
Thankfully, there are solutions for professionals who want to "lean out" for a little while. We regularly coach women on the importance of always keeping a foot in the door, by way of part-time, contract or intentional volunteering. This means that before heading into maternity leave, and then an extended hiatus to raise children, think about the long-term. To remain an invaluable workforce asset, you can't afford to go without years of experience. There are enough professionals out there to fill the needs of organizations. Your years of experience will be a key differentiator, if you intentionally stay in the game.
What's your opinion on this? Did you know there are options that fall in between full-time and no work at all?