The majority of the Baby Boomers in Canada haven’t retired yet, but over the next decade, a major shift is about to take place.
And while many labour market watchers see this as a way for younger generations to move into leadership roles, for the first time, Baby Boomer women are starting to see retirement as just another executive career.
When most people think about the word ‘retirement’, they might have a specific picture in their head.
Caribbean cruises, spending more time with family… or the golf course. But as the largest generation in Western history starts heading into retirement, they’re refusing to set up their lawn-chairs. Instead, they’re redefining the very word.
“I don’t want to call it retirement because retirement to me has always had these connotations – you kind of go and you start to look after grandchildren or you go travelling. But for me that wasn’t what I wanted to do,” says Joanne Gassman.
She retired last year from a post as a Senior Vice President of the Bank of Montreal, and while she knew what she didn’t want her retirement to be, figuring out the right path wasn’t that easy.
“From a financial perspective we plan for that, but I hadn’t really sat down and thought about ‘OK so you’ve got the money part figured out, now what about the rest of the day,’” she says.
“And somebody said to me ‘You’re probably going to live for a really long time, so what are you going to do?’ So I was kind of like, ‘Yeah, let me see. What am I going to do?’”
A year after her so-called retirement, she’s sitting on corporate boards and advisory councils.
And when she arrived here at the station, she had just come from giving a speech to a group of students at UBC’s Sauder School of Business.
As for that plan to live for a long time? Well, she’s on the right track.
Researchers who are trying to better understand why people in some parts of the world live so long have found a secret that has nothing to do with diet and exercise.
People in their 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and beyond who say they live with a sense of purpose live longer than those who can’t define why they get out of bed in the morning.
National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner explained this in his TED Talk:
“In the Okinawan language there is not even a word for retirement. Instead there’s one word that encompases your entire life, and that word is Ikigai. And roughly translated it means ‘The reason for which you wake up in the morning.’ You know the two most dangerous years in your life are the year you’re born, because of infant mortality. And the year you retire. If people know their sense of purpose and they act it in their life, that’s worth about seven years of extra life expectancy.”
WATCH: Dan Buettner on how to live to 100+
But here in Canada, we don’t always do a great job of valuing a sense of purpose and leadership past the age of 65.
That’s part of the reason for the Vancouver-based program that Joanne went through to help define her way forward after she left BMO.
It’s called the Leaders in Transition program, put on by the Minerva Foundation, which supports leadership skills in women.
And it exists largely because of another woman at the top of the career ladder.
Anne Stewart is a corporate lawyer and partner at Blakes, and she says there was a really good reason why she pushed to start the program.
“Pure self-interest,” she says.
“I hate to admit that. But I’m going through this myself. We have retirement in our office, and we’re facing it in the end of December this year. I just saw so many women struggling with this issue. And I think there’s… change is difficult for everybody. But I think this particular group of women are finding it more difficult than other people,” she says.
Stewart says many Baby Boomers will only have one or two jobs in their entire career, student summer gigs aside, while Millennials may have more than 10.
She says that often means Boomers throw themselves into a job with a different fervour, sometimes at the expense of other parts of their life… and when it comes to an end?
“So when you see that career slipping away, or where it’s not going to have the same focus that it’s had up until now – it’s scary. It’s scary to think about what you’re going to do to fill that huge hole in your life,” she says.
But it’s not just for their own self-interest that they’re figuring out a way to keep contributing.
Both Anne and Joanne say that they still have a lot to give back. And not least is the opportunity to be role models for other Baby Boomer women who are staring down retirement.
They’re clear that they’re not fighting any kind of gender bias. But they are doing something their mothers and grandmothers didn’t do.
“You know, when I think about my mom, she was quite happy when she finished helping my dad with her business, she was really quite happy to just think about grandchildren and just spending time,” says Joanne.
“She didn’t have the confidence, and she didn’t have the experience, and I don’t even think she had the desire to go out and get involved in a leadership way. Of actually making an impact or influencing something. We are really the first generation of women who have, in a leadership role, gone through- men have gone through this for years so we don’t really have any role models.”
And as for that pesky word? Well, they’re working on that:
“Retirement has connotations to it. And so some of us called it in-spirement, re-firement, we had a whole collection of names for it.”