Opinion, People

Millions of baby boomers will retire by 2029 — and employers should offer these roles to part-time working mums

Angela Priestley /

Did you hear? An exodus of baby boomers retiring from the workforce could cause some sleepless nights for hiring managers.

A whopping 86% of such managers surveyed by Robert Half are concerned about how baby boomer departures will affect the availability of skills in their organisations. The concerns come as 90% of Australia’s 5.3 million baby boomers are predicted to retire by 2029.

I can’t help but see this as an opportunity to address another group of frustrated individuals, who are possibly facing sleepless nights of their own: working mums pursuing and seeking flexible or part-time roles with genuine career progression opportunities.

I meet these mothers constantly. We regularly receive correspondence from them on Women’s Agenda and saw their frustrations expressed in comment after comment in our recent survey of women and work across Australia.

These are women who may have flexible or part-time work — but feel their career is stuck in either slow-motion or actually going backwards. They’re unable to access progression opportunities, interesting projects and clients. They’re overlooked for leadership development training, work trips, conferences and other opportunities. They miss out on pay rises on account of their part-time status. They miss vital social and networking opportunities.

Many don’t want to rock the boat on openly demanding better conditions, pay or other opportunities because they’re grateful to have a part-time or flexible role — even when they do manage to achieve just as much as their full-time counterparts but get rewarded with less pay because they’re not ‘present’ in an office all week.

The above is just the women who have these part-time and flexible roles and want to derive more career satisfaction and add value in the process.

Then there are those women that want to return to the workforce, who’ve had one, five or 10 or so years out, and are looking for great positions on par with their capabilities and years of experience both in and out of paid work. They’re often overlooked at the first glance of ‘career break’ on the CV.  Anecdotally, we hear about a crisis in confidence afflicting many of these women, who wonder if the skills they had prior to taking time out will still be relevant today (in most cases, they most definitely are).

Some of these mums may be classified as ‘baby boomers’ but many are generation X and generation Y women with decades ahead on their careers and a desire to keep progressing.

If hiring managers are concerned about baby boomer skills walking out the door, now is the time to consider the under-utilised skills of women who’re working flexibly or part-time due to caring responsibilities, or are looking to make a big workforce return following a break.

On the latter, there are plenty of avenues for companies to offer ‘returnship’ style programs, possibly partnering women with some of those baby boomers who have indicated they’ll soon be retiring or scaling back on their hours. These can be formal programs or simply advertised as part-time and flexible positions that will have the support of a mentor — this cohort of women will inevitably apply.

And for those women already working part time but who are seeking more responsibilities and career satisfaction, surely there are opportunities to provide job share arrangements with those boomers that’ll be moving on? A chance for employers to rethink full- and part-time positions, to use project or job sharing as a form of smart and sustainable succession planning? We know of some organisations doing this, often in very formal ways or via small trial programs and pilots — but more employers of all sizes need to take the leap.

There is opportunity in these generational shifts for those who’re willing to throw out the rule book on which employees get to advance. Employers that reconsider how they think about ‘part-time’ and ‘full-time’ work and acknowledge the ambitions of staff that simply can’t be present for a standard workweek, will be rewarded with some of the best talent in the long run.

According to the Robert Half survey, hiring managers are pursuing a number of measures to help address any impending skill shortages, including by creating cross-generational teams and implementing mentoring and coaching programs.

I’d love to see more organisations intentionally pursuing the ambitious women that may already be working part time, as well as women looking for part-time opportunities with real career progression. Employers must also consider those returning, women who may need an added boost of encouragement to apply or just a first opportunity to get in the door for a job interview.

Don’t let those baby boomers exit with their skills, give them a great incentive to take on part time positions or even direct mentoring opportunities to pass those skills on.

It’s a win for the boomer, the individual in the receiving end of such a knowledge transfer, and for the employer.

This piece was first published on Women’s Agenda.

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Angela Priestley

Angela Priestley is the publisher and founding editor of Women's Agenda. She's an author, journalist and passionate advocate for workplace gender equality and diversity. Her first book is Women Who Seize the Moment.

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