Thursday, 23 May 2013

Pressure, pushing down on me, pressing down on you....

Talk about pressure. Earlier, the indomitable BBC waffled on through another meteorological punt, promising "...persistent, lengthening sunny intervals" and a "....sunny for some".  But despite the decided lack of sun, this posting isn't weather related. This is about a different type of pressure in the atmosphere. And not even work pressures - it's on the pressure to work.

Research out of the Kauffman Foundation documents that people over 50 years old are starting companies at 2X the rate of people in their 20's. This surge of entrepreneurs has moved from strength to strength so the AARP has teamed up with Kauffman to keep up the good work. For women, part of the entrepreneurial attraction lies in demonstrations of heroics in the flexi-bending of time. It does give some a clear shot at work-life balance, something that never quite felt possible while operating in traditional organizations.

The look and feel of combining work with caring responsibilities, in a personally manageable and controllable fashion, definitely holds appeal. This trend, however, is not exclusively for the energetic, Type A multi-tasker. Also on the rise are the newly retired but very much still in the game, as they prepare to embark on varying encore careers. According to Paul Irving of the Milken Foundation, speaking at their 2013 Global Conference, there are currently 9M workers in encore careers with a further 31M seeking options. The way we define retirement is shifting and the message that traditional retirement is being eliminated, is starting to be heard.

Which is why, a lower risk twist on entrepreneurship, may offer a higher likelihood of success. Being an entrepreneur doesn't have to mean the next Google or Tesla.  Going concerns can also offer fertile ground for fresh, while experienced brains to take a stab at existing businesses. Many family run businesses have inefficiencies borne out of allegiance to the founders original vision. More importantly, innovation is not the exclusive purview of the young. Even the most experienced hands might usher in a fresh approach.  Given that this scenario might have the added frisson of economic imperative, could make such proposition even more potent. Older people are not in a position where they want to lose but they are also not necessarily looking to knock one out of the park. Powerful stability in a pair of steady hands.

What you rarely hear about, however, is how many of those business dream startups fail to achieve lift off, leaving the would be entrepreneur dejected. Overcoming such failures is believed to be easier for the young, when their time horizon and optimism seems limitless. This is not the case for the older new breed of entrepreneurs. Older people have accrued some EQ, along with their IQ. They have seen that good things can come to those who wait and can  be ambassadors for new ways of thinking about new or existing businesses.

Still, risking capital or raising money in the current constrained environment, at a time when you expect to be living longer and quite possibly longer than your pension (if you are lucky enough to have one), may not feel empowering. It could also feel worrying. Sometimes reading about the success stories can feel akin to Chinese water torture. That steady drip, drip, drip of such impossibly good news, when I cannot conjure up a single entrepreneurial thought.

That said, more people are reconsidering the "what now?" part of this transition stage in our ever lengthening lives. The key gap however, is more about what individual circumstances will force people to do, than interest is staying engaged.  Bottom line, the pressure to perform in later life is coming and it will be unrelenting. It also represents an opportunity to fully participate in the longevity economy and enjoy a longer, brighter future.
No pressure.

Deborah Gale

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

We all need, somebody, to lean on....

Bill Withers knew all about leaning, way back in 1972. And oh we sang, but we didn't take the message seriously. Sheryl Sandberg is leading the charge now. She's been on her book tour, selling women on the benefits of leaning. She's pitching it to a new wave of talent, the next generation. Meanwhile, I am fixated on mine and the fine mess we could find ourselves in.

What can't be explained away and consistently fails to be addressed, starts with the wage gap. Across the EU, according to a report published by the European Commission, a women has to work 59 days of a year for free, given the gender pay gap. They even tried to draw attention to it on February 28th, by celebrating the 2013 European Equal Pay Day, 59 days after the New Year began. Somehow, I missed, what must have been some party. In the USA, it's no better for either sex. An average wage earner has to work for a month, to make what their CEO's make in an hour. Wrap your weary heads around that reminder of your worth.

When reality fails to meet expectations, disappointment reigns and then what? We need confidence, which is in short supply; when vulnerability is immense and trust is very thin indeed. The holders of half the sky who only get .77 cents out of every one of those $1.00's earned by a man are also raising kids and caring for ageing/disabled relatives.  But women  get told that it's up to them and it's in their power to change things, if they are serious about getting what they want. And even more confusingly, this will happen, without anything else changing. Who honestly thinks that can work?

Women may be starting more companies, but even back in the world of the Sheryl Sandberg style of female success, women may ask but still only get a pittance of funding from venture capital. That rare air is also notorious for its male dominance. Meanwhile, capital availability from banks, in the form of loans to SME's, is slow and procedurally tedious. Finding the what for, to lean in, when there is no visible means of support to lean against, is a physical impossibility.

And it's not just a business phenomenon. I was invited to an academic conference last week. It was a fairly esoteric gathering of cerebral power. Just over thirty people and full of complete brainiac, navel gazing stuff. Anyway, we were seated in some Alice in Wonderland room with massive fireplaces, mirrors and gigantic oil paintings. I had  a brief, while intense moment of clarity.

There were three oil paintings on the wall and  two of the portraits were of women. It occurred to me that proportionally, there was a greater likelihood of a woman being on a wall in that room, than on one of the seats. While the chair for the day was a female colleague, not a single woman presented, nor asked a question. Leaning in isn't exactly happening in the hallowed halls either.

We are living in a time of increasingly regular exposé's and disappointments - think PIP breast implants, LIBOR rigging, energy price fixing, Bloomberg snooping, IRS targeting to name a few of this weeks top hits, but this goes deeper. While the global news streams a daily scream of injustice about the inhumane treatment of girls and women, the sisterhood is struggling from Delhi, to Cleveland, to Oxford.

They are not doing it for themselves because they can't. And it will take far more than liberal platitudes or even the folksy wisdom and last century career building tips from Warren Buffet. Even though he has latterly concluded, that women are the secret to the future economic success of the US!

When Sheryl was interviewed by Eric Schmidt at the Computer History museum in San Joseshe said that Silicon Valley needed to wake up! She said that she had enrolled her daughter in a summer computer camp at Stanford and of the 35 kids on the list, only 5 were girls. Along with her daughter and two nieces, she had been responsible for getting three girls there.  Still, it's not just Silicon Valley that needs to wake up. It's going to take women, including every woman out there who ever gave life to a son or a daughter. Women must wake up and see that being a feminist means believing in equality - period and that nothing less should be expected or accepted.

"Lean on me, when you're not strong". That anthem, in the age of longevity, is about to take on far greater significance.

Deborah Gale