Erica Baird and Karen Wagner co-founded Lustre.net, to help women who shattered the glass ceiling in the ’70s tap into their potential, forge new identities and find new purpose as they enter retirement.
Photographs by Peter van Agtmael, courtesy of Lustre.net
Here, the two women, both successful lawyers now retired, talk to us about their mission to slay the tired old stereotypes of women in retirement, the importance of surrounding yourself with female friends, and how vital travel can be to forming your sense of identity – then and now.
If you’ve ever felt invisible as a woman of “a certain age” you need to read this.
You both seem so vibrant and self-assured. Have you ever gone through a period of life when you felt “invisible”?
For sure, right after we retired, overnight. We began to realize this invisibility was partly because no-one had a clear image of who we actually are – accomplished women with decades ahead of us and a desire to stay in the mix – and partly because we were hidden behind old and outdated stereotypes of age and retirement. We founded Lustre to showcase images of what we look like and what we can do, so that we become as visible as we are.
“We are not done. We want to stay connected, and to be relevant, and to be seen as the resources we are.”
How are retired women today different to previous generations of women in their 60s+
We are part of the first large cohort of women who had careers – lifelong careers that we loved. We have many assets, including experience and skills, and money. We also have several decades of active life ahead of us – a much longer runaway in the past, a 30 year dividend. We are not done. We want to stay connected, and to be relevant, and to be seen as the resources we are.
“The younger run faster, but the older know the shortcuts.”
Which outdated stereotypes around women of retirement age wind you up the most?
The assumption that we are done with the world, that we actually want to spend the next 30 years smelling the roses as we sit in our rocking chairs, that we actually can't do much else. That the wisdom that comes with years means we should be content with being sidelined for several decades. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those preconceptions are based on a past era when life expectancy was much shorter, and when women did not work as we now do. Women of retirement age are energetic, skilled, experienced and wealthy. We are assets who want to be deployed to help those still in the workforce to move forward faster. The younger run faster, but the older know the shortcuts.
What do you think retirement should look like for women in the 2020s and beyond?
Women – and everyone else – need to understand that we likely have three decades ahead of us, during which we will be healthy and sentient. That is way too long to be sidelined, or to be isolated in an “old age” community. We should live intergenerationally, and offer what we know to younger people. We should be able to work, providing distilled leadership that comes only with experience. Marketers should be offering us a range of products – travel, tech, clothes, housing – that recognize our vibrant lives.
How do you see travel fitting in with your trailblazing approach to retirement?
We travelled while we worked – of course on business, but also for relaxation and education. We love travel – as a key way to learn, as well as to have fun and new experiences. We now have more time than we used to, which is exciting. We can't wait for the end of COVID-19…
Tell us a bit about your background in travel.
We both learned young that travel is critical to understanding the world, and with each passing year our world became more and more international. It was important to both of us to be comfortable in the world and fluent in our understanding of different cultures. We are both globalists. It was also important to both of us to travel with our children so they too would understand that people and places around the world are fascinating, and different, and also the same. And travel refreshed us. It changed our thinking, and perspective, and made us better people and better lawyers.
How important do you think it is to surround yourself with female friends with similar outlooks on life?
When we entered the workforce we were at the forefront of a wave of women who wanted careers, and to be treated as equals. We all faced similar barriers, and we bonded over our joint objectives. We loved Ms. Magazine and Working Girl the movie. Now, we are still at the forefront of that wave of women, this time with regard to retirement. We need to regain our camaraderie because once again we face similar barriers--the perception that we are old and done and irrelevant. It is imperative that we talk to each other, that we show each other what 60, 70 and 80 looks like, and that we talk with each other about what we can do and what we want to do. We need to bring back the community we had fifty years ago. Having said that, it’s always important to have women with different perspectives as part of your world. That’s how you learn, how you challenge yourself, how you grow.
“Even today there are few images in the media of older women doing anything, let alone something important or vital. We need to come out now as the vital older women we are.”
What advice do you have for women approaching retirement?
Understand you will go through a process. Some of you will have a retirement life plan and will be thrilled to put it into effect. Most of us will not. But you will come to realize that your entire life has prepared you for the next phase. It will take a while to work through sadness about losing your job, and your identity, and to come up with a plan, and a new identity. Just don’t expect everything to work out quickly.
Check out Karen and Erica’s online community for retired, trailblazing women at Lustre.net.