Article - Female Exec

Female Executive Probes New Territory


by Helen Dennis


Published in the Daily Breeze, March 21, 2002



Question:  I am a female Senior-Vice President of an insurance company and 61 years old.  My career for the past 10 years has consisted of rather high-level positions.  Most of the retirement things I read are geared to men.  And if it is about executives, it is all about men.  What has been done for successful women who are trying to think about what their lives will be like in retirement?  -- Lois


Dear Lois:


You are right.  There is very little addressed to women who love their careers, define themselves through work, have been effective and now face retirement.  And there is a good reason why this issue has not been addressed…that is, until now.  This is the first time that significant number of women is retiring from positions that they truly love and are part of their soul.


I would like to tell you about a group that I am part of.  About two years ago, Bernice Bratter, a colleague and executive director of a non-profit, asked me if there had been any work done about executive women and retirement.  I told her that to my knowledge, there wasn’t.  She suggested that we both ask some professional women to get together to talk about the subject.  Well, we still are meeting, taking notes and discussing retirement issues confronting women working outside the home.   


We named the group -- Renewment –- a cross between retirement and renewal.  It was clear that none in the group was really prepared to stop working.  All had worked very hard to achieve some success and effectiveness.  No one really knew how to begin thinking about the next chapter. 


We didn’t come up with answers, but did outline some things to consider.  Here are just a few.


1.      If you have always been in the fast lane, do you need to keep that pace to feel good about yourself? 

2.      Can you indulge yourself and do something that is not purposeful or goal directed?

3.      How do you see your self-worth in relationship to the amount of money you earn?

4.      Where will you get your mental stimulation?

5.      How will you replace the work relationships that you value?

6.      How much people-contact do you want or need?

7.      Do you thrive on structure? 

8.      How important is recognition to you?

9.      Can you identify your passions?

10.  What makes you feel successful and effective?


One can argue that these considerations can apply to men as well as women. I would like to suggest that the women’s issues are slightly different because their paths of “getting there” have been different.


The book The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, published in the 1960s, sent a strong message to women.  That is, women had choices and opportunities to combine a career with family life.  If parenting, homemaking and community involvement were not completely fulfilling, there were other things a woman could do.  Many women returned to school, got advanced degrees and pursued their work outside the home with intensity and drive.


          Now, these women are of retirement age with almost no role models.  Many have been so busy with work and family, they haven’t even thought about a life in retirement. 


I had a conversation with a senior female executive who expressed concern that, after she retired, she would be moved over to the wives’ group when playing golf. (Note:  there is nothing wrong with the “wives’” group.  It is just different.) The question is, “how important is it to play golf with the businessmen?” In another conversation, a female accountant took the mike during a Q & A session at a conference and said, “My husband thinks I am retiring to the kitchen to bake pecan pies.  I never liked pecans and hate to bake.”


Lois, if any of these issues apply to you or someone you know, consider forming a group to discuss this important transition.  This is not a support group or one of crisis intervention.  Rather, it is a group that is proactive and strategic in helping women move towards a fulfilling retirement. 


Thank you for the good question.   



© Helen Dennis 2002. All rights reserved.