By Pamela Yip
The Dallas Morning News.
When Antonia Williams-Gary moved from Miami to Dallas a year ago, she wanted to do something different with her career.
“I really was in search of something brand-new in a brand-new place,” said Williams-Gary, 65, who had worked in nonprofit executive management and the specialty publishing industry.
Although she has family in the area, she wanted to find other women her age who were also looking for jobs in today’s ultra-competitive job market.
She found them at Ladies 1st at the Senior Source, a free program aimed at helping women 55 and older find jobs.
It offers support groups, mock interviews and mentoring.
While older men and women face challenges in searching for jobs, women face unique obstacles, experts said.
“The job search technically is the same in terms of what we teach them in job search readiness,” said Claire Turner, director of the senior employment program at the Senior Source.
“Except for women, in many cases, they are people who have just lost a spouse and have become the head of household and their child has just lost their job, their adult child has just moved in with them.”
“All of a sudden, they feel like they need to go back to work to bring in more household income to support now a child and three grandchildren,” she said. “We’re seeing that a lot.”
At first glance, the struggles of older jobless women aren’t reflected in unemployment figures.
“In the few years prior to the recession, the male and female rates (for those 55 years and older) were fairly close together and very low, running around 3 percent,” said Cheryl Abbot, regional economist in Dallas for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“During the recession, the male rates climbed markedly above 8 percent due to the heavier impact of the recession on male-dominated goods-producing industries.”
The jobless rate for older women also rose, to around 6 percent, Abbot said.
Since then, the jobless rates for both groups have fallen, she said.
“The jobless rate for men has improved to the point that older men and women once again have about the same unemployment rate,” Abbot said.
But the numbers don’t tell the whole story about women in midlife seeking jobs, said those who work with that group.
“It’s quite hard to regain confidence, to regain your sense of self and your ability to contribute in a working environment when you have been marginalized or absent from the workforce or struck by a life-changing situation,” said Roslyn Dawson Thompson, chief executive of the Dallas Women’s Foundation, whose $30,000 grant last year to the Senior Source started the Ladies 1st program.
It’s part of the foundation’s initiative to advance economic stability for 16,000 female heads of household in North Texas.
Williams-Gary said the biggest benefits she derived from Ladies 1st were networking and “seeing other women like me, those who have had careers and who have had family intervention where the family needs dictated that we leave our full-time jobs or find something less stressful to do.”
She advised women to get with others in similar situations and share experiences.
“Hearing that from other women reinforced my own sense of the path that I have put myself on to leave Miami, come to Dallas and then go in search of some gainful employment.”
Williams-Gary and others offered other advice for older women seeking jobs:
-Don’t rely on computer job searches alone. “Spend X number of hours being out and about, talking with people, volunteering with organizations,” Williams-Gary said.
-Do something every day. “It’s critical that you take action every single day or Monday through Friday,” said Turner of the Senior Source. “This can be as simple as attending a networking meeting, launching an email networking campaign or researching companies you are targeting. Try setting three job search goals per week so that by Friday, you can celebrate your progress.”
-Trumpet your age as an asset, not a liability. “Go in and don’t apologize for your age,” said Carol Gardner, a board member of OWL, which advocates for the interests of midlife and older women. “Brag about it and say, ‘At my age, I’ve learned a lot. I’m great at time management.’ Be really positive about your identity and who you are. That will excite employers.”
-Make yourself stand out from the competition. “Do research about a company and the industry,” Gardner said.
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“Think of who your competition is (for the job). What one thing can you do that is daring and different and smart and that will get the attention of whoever is hiring you?”
-Update your wardrobe. “Clothing can immediately date a woman’s appearance and give the impression of being out of touch,” Turner said. “Discard that bright yellow jacket with ’80s giant shoulder pads. You don’t want to dress like a 20-year-old, but you don’t want to be outdated, either.”
Turner also advised women to consider dyeing their gray hair.
“Gray hair is a sign of age, so should you consider dyeing it?” she said. “Answering that question is a personal preference, but you should think carefully about your hairstyle. Is it the same haircut you’ve had for 20 years and a bit outdated? Is it time for a new look?”
-Get comfortable with video interviews. “This trend is growing, and recent studies have shown 6 out of 10 recruiters are using this technique,” Turner said. “How you handle this process can demonstrate to the employer whether or not you are technology-savvy and adaptable. You don’t want to look washed-out on video, but remember not to overdo it on the makeup or eye shadow or length or color of your nails.”
The key is remembering that you don’t want to look outdated in appearance or attitude.
“We were constantly reminded that we need to be relevant,” Williams-Gary said. “We need to be relevant with our resumes, we need to be relevant with our language, we need to be relevant with body of knowledge.”
WOMEN VS. MEN:
Older women are much more likely to be in poverty or near poverty than older men.
Social Security benefits for a female retiree are about $3,800 less each year than for a male retiree as a result of lower pay and less work on average over the woman’s life span.
Unpaid caregiving and interrupted work histories play a role.
Older women are less likely to have retirement savings from an employer plan.
Women tend to outlive men, so they’re living longer on less.
Lack of income or savings means older unemployed women are likely to take Social Security early rather than wait until their full benefit, which decreases their benefits over their lifespan.
SOURCE: National Council on Aging
ABOUT THE WRITER
Pamela Yip is a personal finance columnist for the Dallas Morning News.