by Denise Berger
Who else was cheering for Glenn Close when she won Best Actress for her role in the Sony series, Damages. Why? She nailed it when she said, “I think we’re proving that complicated, powerful, mature women are sexy, high entertainment and can carry a show…I call us the sisterhood of the TV drama divas.” Other awards were received by Dianne Wiest (60), Jean Smart (57), Laura Linney (44), and Dame Eileen Atkins (74). In her acceptance speech, Glenn Close was alluding to a new trend that is not exclusive to the entertainment field. I believe she was referring to the original meaning of a “diva”, a woman of rare and outstanding talent. Could it be that women who are over 45 years old are finding a “second life” (and I don’t mean avatars)? Yes! They have a great deal to offer, least of which is 30 additional years of skill, capacity and productivity. With such a talent pool, they are coming out as today’s architect of change. Can they have impact? Yes.
According to the US Census Bureau in 2007, the total USA population is approximately 300 million, with roughly a 50/50 split between males and females.
- Twenty-five (25%) of females fall between the ages of 45 and 65; this translates to nearly 38 million women. (There are close to 37 million men in that same age bracket.) In this age bracket, 87.5% of females have a high school education and 27% have a bachelor’s degree or higher. (Thirty percent of this male demographic has a bachelor’s degree or higher.)
- Women ages 35-44 year olds comprise 15% of the overall female population, or roughly 22 million women. Among this group of Gen Xers, 30.8% have a BA degree or higher (compared to 28% of males of a similar sized pool).
- Lastly, women between 25-35 years old make up almost 15% of the total female population and over 32% have a BA or higher. The male age group represents virtually the same percentage to the total but the percentage of men earning BAs or higher has dropped to 25%.
These statistics indicate that mature women comprise the largest portion of the population and a comparable source of talent. Secondly, the up and coming Gen X women have competitively pursued higher education, putting them on the map as a significant pool of talent as well. Therefore, corporations have an amazing opportunity to fill the talent void with high-potential, qualified, highly-educated, talented, mature, wise, focused, responsible, reliable, and hard-working women. This opportunity is to the tune of over 10 million women who are 45+ years old and nearly 7 million up and coming women in the 35-44 age bracket. By the way, that does not even include the women who are 65+ years old who have an average life expectancy of 20 additional years, according to the Dept of Health and Human Services in their 2007 A Profile of Older Americans report.
McKinsey Quarterly cites in their recent article, “Meeting boomers’ retirement expectation,” that in just 7 short years there will be over 45 million households with people in the age range of 51-70 and they will control nearly 60% of the US net wealth. However, in order to maintain the lifestyle to which they have grown accustomed, virtually 60% of them will work to maintain 80% of their current consumption and 40% will be still be working at age 65. Marc Freedman, the author of Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life, concludes that the baby boomers are not even necessarily interested in retiring, but rather want to put their skills to good use in jobs that they find rewarding and satisfying. In fact, Marc points out in his book that four out of five boomers expect to work into the retirement years and that “the movement of millions of these individuals into a new phase of work constitutes one of the most significant transformations in work this country has witnessed since millions of women broke through to new roles in the labor market.”
So, there is empirical evidence that the generation over 45 years old wants and/or needs to work. We have determined that a significant portion of this segment is comprised of highly educated, talented women – and this population is only growing as some Gen Xers cross over too. Are the jobs out there? The US Bureau of Labor Statistics believes that in the next 7 years US companies will need to fill 34 million jobs, 12 million of which require highly skilled, management experience. Why shouldn’t we match women with some of these positions? The talent shortage is expected to reach epic proportions by 2040. In Europe alone, McKinsey reports in their 2007 Women Matter article that we can expect a shortfall of 24 million, but if we raise female employment rates to the male employment levels, the shortfall can drop to 3 million. In addition, let’s not forget earlier research that finds greater returns and stock price value in firms that have higher percentages of female talent at the top.
With all of this empirical data, what is holding corporations back from tapping into this population? Much like the younger Gen Y brethren, and child-rearing women between the ages of 35-45, the “encore” generation wants and will demand work-life balance, meaning/sense of purpose, and impact. Rethinking the workplace is necessary. Full-time, half-time, part-time, job-sharing, telecommuting, extended vacation time, workplace dynamics and camaraderie, non-profit involvement and sponsorship, and broader/alternative medical benefits are all top-of-mind.
Top female talent is an imperative, and there is an immense pool of candidates from which to draw. Tap into them, recruit them and give them the flexibility in the workplace that they demand. Good for the economy; good for business; good for society; great for womankind.