Let’s talk transition!
By Fran Lyon-Dugin, Ph.D., Principal Consultant
You have been hearing about mass turnover in the nonprofit industry due to Baby Boomers retiring or moving on to their “next act.” There have been suggestions about how to attract and retain employees. What about the personal aspects of transition? And, let’s talk about women, since they make up about 75 percent of the nonprofit workforce. What does it mean for you, personally, when you make an employment transition? Are you prepared for that kind of move? What will it feel like? How will it impact you and those you hold special in your life? What will you need for support as you transition?
The good news is that most of us have many choices, and learning to navigate an upcoming transition can be anticipated with enthusiasm and positivity. You will also be better off if you can thoughtfully prepare for it. Most of us working in the nonprofit sector will want to continue to contribute and give back, although you may have a list of things you DON’T want to do anymore (like “I will never again attend a fundraising dinner!” as one of my newly retired nonprofit executive friends told me!). Whether you choose to work part time in the same or a new field, start your own business, volunteer, teach, or retire “in full,” there are some aspects of transition that might be worth keeping in mind to help you in your movement to the next phase.
In my recent Ph.D. research, I explored transitions for women over age 50 with a group of co-researchers, women who had gone through it or were going through it, and also several people in fields that support those in transition (i.e., recruitment, outplacement, networking). Here are a few of the findings from this group that you might find interesting:
- We need to keep talking about ageism; it’s real.
Women in transition who sought new positions experienced very real ageism, yet studies cited in my research show that productivity of ALL workers improves when workers of all ages are represented. Myths around older workers being less adaptable and teachable are also blown out of the water by the stories of transitions to brand new businesses, inventions of new products, and other endeavors. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation, a key player in the talent management arena, has published a manual: Leveraging the Talents of Mature Employees, aimed at dispelling these myths, citing research that shows mature workers “less resistant to change than younger workers, less likely to leave the organization, less likely to miss work, interested in learning new things, and able to keep up with technology” (Paullin, 2014, p. 6). We all need to engage others in dialogue around older workers that helps promote their value in various work and volunteer settings.
- Women want and need to continue networking with other women.
Women in the study expressed the importance of staying networked with other women in order to keep their confidence up, stay abreast of new trends, and explore new opportunities of all types. They found great value in attending conferences, taking courses and workshops, attending networking events, and, most importantly, meeting one-on-one with other women. Staying connected comes easier for women, they said, but still takes concentrated effort. Whether it was talking about what was important to them, picking someone’s brain about a new idea, finding a common connection that could help them, or actually making a connection to a new job or volunteer opportunity, networking is still the best tool we have for staying out of “limbo” mode and moving forward. Don’t stop networking!
- Women want to give back to other women. Let’s improve our mentoring!
We all know how good it feels to help someone else out. Older women have so much to offer younger women in terms of experience and wisdom; it’s too good not to share! Finding a role in which women could support and teach other women was very important to those in the study, and it gave them much greater satisfaction than the fabricated, ladder-oriented rewards of their former career days. This might be something you could do with an organization that has a formal mentoring program, such as TeamWomenMN (https://teamwomenmn.org/ ) Maybe this is a role you can create by finding a younger member on a board where you serve that you can support, or finding a young supervisor in a nonprofit you serve who needs an ear, or just talking with a younger neighbor about her work. Whatever the environment, it’s important to both mentor and mentee to establish relationships that build confidence, skills, and resilience.
If you are in or near career transition, these findings may be helpful in your efforts to find a place to share your talents and experience in a new way.
Lyon-Dugin, F. (2017). Re-Creation in the Age of Wisdom: Involuntary Job Transition in Women over 50. Retrieved from https://www.taosinstitute.net/Websites/taos/files/Content/6170036/Lyon-Dugin_Dissertation.pdf
Paullin, C. (2014). The Aging Workforce: Leveraging the Talents of Mature Employees. SHRM Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/about/foundation/products/Documents/Aging%20Workforce%20EPG-FINAL.pdf