Think about it: a mere century ago, the world was a very different place. Cars were scarce, television hadn't been invented yet, and an apple was just a tasty fruit. More importantly, women couldn't vote, own property, or even open a bank account in their own name. During the past century, women have gained these rights and transformed their roles in the family, community, workplace, marketplace, and, increasingly, in leadership. Baby boomer women -- the oldest of whom are now nearing age 70 -- were the first generation of women to pursue higher education in large numbers. That education coupled with more workplace opportunity directly translated into more women entering and remaining in the workforce, taking on positions of influence, forging a new role for women in our country, and providing a model for generations of younger women.
But what happens to boomer women as they move into their retirement years? According to an Age Wave/Merrill Lynch study, "Work in Retirement: Myths and Motivations," more than half of 50+ women say their ideal retirement will include work, and 62 percent say they want to pursue a completely new line of work for this stage of their lives. As a result, instead of retiring to a more leisurely lifestyle or continuing in a field they've already mastered, more older women are successfully pursuing positions of leadership in something else: government and politics.
A few of the famous ones include Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Carly Fiorina (attempting to transition from corporate to political leadership). But that's just part of the story. The fact is that older women are running for office, and many are winning at the local, regional, state, and national levels. With their child-rearing years behind them, they often have the time and focus to tackle the challenges that face our communities and our country.
These women are applying the experience, skills, and wisdom gained in the workplace to civic leadership roles. The average age of a woman serving in the U.S. House of Representatives is 59. According to Emerge America, the premier training program designed specifically for women running on the Democratic ticket at all levels of elected office, most of their program graduates are women 45+. These are women like 64-year-old Maine State Representative Jay McCreight, who didn't run for office until her 60s after she retired from her career as a social worker and clinical counselor. She was elected to office in 2014, and has already passed legislation that expands reproductive health care to low-income women in Maine.
Like Representative McCreight, more women are considering politics as a second or third career, oftentimes just getting started in a new direction at an age that used to be considered over the hill. It may be that older women have more time or that they see the public's fatigue with "politics as usual" as an opportunity to make change happen, whether it be locally or nationally.
So how do you get started? Here are three steps to get you going in the right direction:
- Focus on something you care about. If education is at the top of your priority list, run for your local school board. If you're concerned about the environment, run for the local Water Board or City Council. Starting small is a great way to test the waters.
- Discuss it with your family. Make sure they will be on board and support your move in this direction.
- Participate in political training. There are many training programs for women that provide solid tools for running a successful campaign, including information on the dreaded work of fundraising. For instance, the Women's Campaign School at Yale University is a nonpartisan, issue-neutral, leadership-training program that focuses on women who are running for political office. There are also training programs designed specifically for candidates of both parties.
Over the next decade, we may see more boomer women disrupting the overwhelmingly male-dominated political leadership status quo. At the same time, boomer women may be forging an increasingly important role for women who have gained workplace savvy, skills, knowledge and wisdom in their earlier career life, so that more leadership positions locally, regionally, statewide, and nationally will be held by this cohort. Women make up more than half of the population and almost half of the U.S. workforce; it's time that we play an equal role in our nation's politics. And it may be just the kind of second or third career that would add meaning and purpose to your next stage of life.