Re-Invent Yourself! Gives Women Working Solutions to Meltdown

Article excerpt

The women spilled through the door- way and into the meeting room, the crescendo of their conversation over- whelming the meeting organizers, who had imagined that this would be a sub- dued crowd. As a rule, people looking for a job or a career change, or hoping to launch a business, are a serious-minded group. But these women were different.

Seated in groups of eight, they started sharing stories about lost jobs, the local workplace, opportunities in Southern California, where to get education funding-and how to sign up for Monster, com. All of them were ages 45 and older. Most live in Orange County, California, and many are members of WomanSage, a nonprofit I started some years ago for women at midlife.

FIRST MEETINGS

Those at the gathering were attending the first meeting of Re-Invent Yourself! Workplace Solutions for Women 45-Plus. "This is the first positive thing that's happened to me in months," one woman told Regina Campbell, an attorney specializing in elderlaw. Campbell, the inspiration for the Re-Invent program, is a WomanSage board member who believed that there could be an authence for women facing midlife career transitions.

"Who knew?" Campbell asked. "Who knew we would get this started and the economy would tank and we would be overwhelmed?" The initial meeting in November drew 91 women, and the January attendance included 130.

The nonprofit WomanSage, which is building a webpage for Re-Invent at www.womansage.org, is partnering with the Institute of Gerontology, directed by Pauline Abbott, at California State University, Fullerton, to offer a new curriculum for the program. The University of California, Irvine, and other community and private colleges also are involved.

Professionals-from career coaches to members of the Service Corps of Retired Executives and the U.S. Small Business Administration-are volunteering time to speak and mentor Re-Invent candidates. Topics range from nuts and bolts skills, such as how to write a résumé, to midlife concerns, like restoring self-esteem. We've also received assistance from Wells Fargo Bank, Kaiser Permanente and other corporations, which are providing financial support to offset administrative costs.

'A PERFECT STORM'

I was also thrilled that the Orange County Register agreed to partner with WomanSage and carry my new "Re-Invent Yourself ' column, each one on a job or business issue facing midlife women. Readers comprise aging boomers, the first generation in which significant numbers of women entered the workforce.

"I am divorced," one woman, age 50, wrote to me. "I am happy to be independent and on my own, but I am also frightened. I don't have time to think about anybody except me and my family."

What happened to the concept that boomers will give back to others, that they will carve out a career of contribution rather than income as they age, such as quitting the business world and becoming a teacher? What about expectations that many will offer their services at a reduced rate to local nonprofit organizations? Such altruism was possible when there was money in people's retirement funds, Lisa Banning, a financial planner, told me.

The current reality is that the economy for midlife women may be reaching "a perfect storm," said Karen Ferguson, director of the Pension Rights Center, an advocacy group for retirees in Washington, D.C. "You have 401(k) plans going into the tank and the cost of health insurance rising, so many people see the need to work longer," she said in a recent New York Times article. "At the same time, many employers don't have money to hire people and they're getting rid of their more expensive employees, so it's kind of a perfect storm."

REARRANGING PRIORITIES

"How will you survive this storm?" I recently asked readers of my column. Initially, they surprised me: From teachers to ministers, from nonprofit aides to senior helpers, boomers by the bucketful told me that the second half of their lives will be different. …