On average, women live between six and eight years longer than men, yet earned only 82.3% of what men did in 2020. Over a 40-year career, women in the U.S. earn about $406,280 less than white men. Women also tend to have fewer years of earned income due to caregiving responsibilities for children and aging parents, and more women than men live in poverty. So, maybe it's no surprise that for women, retirement isn't all just sunset walks on the beach and lunch with the ladies.
Indeed, both men and women are increasingly finding that retirement isn't all they hoped for — or something that they can afford. Consequently, retirees are returning to the workforce. Today, 39% of workers 65 and older who are currently employed had previously retired at some point.
For some women, the reasons to return to work are financial. For others, it's more about remaining involved and connected. For Jeri Karges, who worked as a financial controller at Intel for decades, it was a little of both. "People live longer, healthier, happier lives if they have a purpose or a satisfying reason to jump out of bed every day and take on the world. I left all that behind when I retired. Within six months, I learned I needed something more," says Karges, who's now a retirement coach in the Sacramento, California, area and the creator of a financial planning newsletter for retirees called Rockin' the Third Act.
Another factor in this changing landscape: Companies are (finally!) realizing that there's more than one pipeline of talent. "The workplace today is interested in your attitude and what you can do, not where you went to school and what award you got," says Sarah Olin, an executive and leadership coach who's worked with clients from Amazon and the NBA. She founded Luscious Mother, a collective of coaches who work to empower women in their careers.
If you're tired of retirement and are considering re-entry into the workforce, here's what you need to consider:
1. Figure out why you want to go back
Start by identifying your reason for returning to work. If it's financial, then salary — not job description — might be your priority. Or, if the high cost of health care later in life is driving you back to work, you'll want to find a company with an excellent benefits package. However, if your return is being prompted by a desire to be involved, stay busy, or share your expertise through mentorship, you might have more flexibility when choosing a position.
2. Let your network know
Many seniors who go back to work after a period of retirement don't go back to their former job titles, opting instead for a less high-pressure role. If you don't plan to go back to your former job title, the easiest place to start searching for a new job is in your everyday life.
Ask at the businesses you frequent. Tell your friends you're open to opportunities. Rekindle dormant professional relationships over coffees, casual conversations, and virtual meet-ups. Even if you're just considering reentering the workforce, start reaching out to people.
"[Returning to work] takes some tending to," says Gina Hadley, the co-founder of The Second Shift, a platform that connects qualified female candidates to companies that offer family-friendly professional opportunities. "And being entrepreneurial in spirit plus thinking out of the box can pay off."
If you plan to look for work in the field from which you retired, interacting on social media in groups related to your industry can also kickstart your search. "You can very quickly become part of the conversations in your industry by commenting and reposting in your area of expertise," says Selina Meere, vice president of marketing and business development of Park Place Payments, a woman-owned fintech company with a direct sales force comprised mostly of women who are reentering the workforce. "You can use social media as a currency to make yourself more relevant."
3. Mine your time off
Chances are, the activities you've been involved in during your retirement have transferable skills that are relevant to whatever you might want to do next. That's because "most career-minded people spearhead initiatives that are aligned with their 'zone of genius' even if they're not in a traditional workplace," explains Sue Campbell, co-author of "The Parental Leave Playbook: 10 Touchpoints to Transition Smoothly, Strengthen Your Family and Continue Building Your Career." So don't write off pursuits you've been involved in since retiring, such as volunteer work. Instead, position them in a way that can add value when you start job hunting.
4. Uplevel your expertise
According to Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO, and co-founder of iRelaunch.com, a career reentry firm, ageism can be a problem when returning to work. The best way to combat that, she says, is to be an expert in your field.
"People who take the time to learn about the new products and services in their industry, plus any controversies, developments, and hot topics are positioned to have substantive conversations about what's going on in their field," explains Cohen. "And if you can have an energized substantive conversation with potential colleagues, they're going to focus more on the content of what you're saying versus how old you are or how long of a career break you might have taken."
Cohen, who also co-authored "Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home-Moms Who Want to Return to Work," recommends taking a selection of free online courses in your field through companies like Coursera to update your knowledge. "It will signal to an employer that you're serious about returning to work and that your knowledge is current."
5. Change industries or positions
Coming out of retirement can be the perfect time to try something completely different or accept a more junior position.
"Some people want to return at a lower level to get their feet wet again. Others want a less stressful job or are in a life stage where they have lots of things going on outside of work," says Cohen.
6. Consider a returnship
A returnship is a full-time reentry for people interested in returning to work after an extended career gap. Sometimes called a "return-to-work" or "re-entry" program, they're structured, paid programs that offer a re-introduction to an industry and can help level up your skills. They can also help you make new contacts and give you fresh experience to add to your resume. iRelaunch.com maintains a database of these opportunities and holds return-to-work conferences twice annually to connect companies to the talent pool of experienced workers.
7. Take advantage of remote and flex opportunities
Companies are beginning to understand that remote and flexible opportunities are increasingly attractive — especially to women and mothers, 68% of whom would prefer to work remotely after the pandemic.
"The idea that work has to be a certain way has been turned on its head," says Katie Fogarty, a career strategist and the founder of The Reboot Group, a consultancy that's worked with employees from American Express and Fox News. "More than ever, there are options for being part of this version of the workplace in whatever way you want to be."
So make use of online hubs like The Second Shift, The Riveter, Power to Fly, HeyMama, The Mom Project, The Female Lead, and Après for up-to-date resources, online events, training, and job postings that might lead to a different kind of return to work than you expected, but that might be perfect.
Above all, if you're interested in going back to work, the key is getting started to build both your confidence and momentum. Don't get hung up about the level of the position you restart with, advises Cohen. "Instead, get your foot in the door. Raises and promotions will come along after that."