The University’s 9th annual Ann Richards Invitational Roundtable on Gender and the Media focused on the role older individuals play in the work force and how the concept of retirement has evolved in the last few decades. The event took place last Thursday, Nov. 5 at the Women’s Resource Center at Brandeis University.

The event is designed to bring together social scientists and journalists with the aim of improving media coverage of issues that impact the lives of both genders, according to the event description.

Discussion topics at the annual roundtable range from economic issues to social, health and family issues. Richards was the Fred and Rita Richman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Politics at Brandeis from 1997 to 1998. She served as the second female governor of Texas from 1991 to 1995 and was elected as a trustee of Brandeis in 1998, was reelected in 2004 and continued to hold the position until her death in 2006. “She was so generous with her responses to other people. If you told Ann Richards something really funny, she wouldn’t just smile or laugh, she would stop and break up completely. She taught us all so much — she was a great campfire cook. Her wit was a constant delight,” the University’s website states on a page devoted to her.

This year’s roundtable participants included Peter Glezinis, a veteran metro columnist with the Boston Herald, who has written extensively about the city; Sally Abrahams, an award-winning journalist and nationally recognized expert on baby boomers and senior citizens; Kimberly Blanton, a former financial and economics reporter for the Boston Globe, the Economist and other publications; Caryl Rivers, the 2007 winner of the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists; Caitrin Lynch, Ph.D., a Professor of Anthropology at Frank W. Olin College of Engineering and a Visiting Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at Brandeis University; Margie Lachman, Ph.D., a Minnie and Harold L. Fierman Professor of Psychology Lab at Brandeis and a member of the Lifespan Initiative on Healthy Aging; Maggie Mulvehill, an award winning journalist and teacher; and Rosalind Barnett, Ph.D., a Senior Scientist at the Women’s Studies research Center at Brandeis University and is Executive Director of its Community, Families & Work Program.

The participants discussed how older individuals fare in the workplace and the certain unique challenges workers can face with age.

They also addressed what retirement is in today’s sense of the word and how its meaning has evolved over the past few decades. Glezinis strongly addressed retirement, saying “I am working because I like it, and like I said, I have a lot of independence, and I can create my own situation.”

Additionally, the participants touched upon the use of engineering and education to create tools that can be used to help older workers adapt to certain working conditions. Lynch noted that these innovations are “things that we don’t pay attention to but are the fabric of meaning [for older workers].”

Lachman mentioned how people who are more physically active are cognitively and psychologically better off in the workplace.

Blanton then made the point that “if physical exercise is good for you, then why [are] people that have ‘physical’ jobs not better off? Isn’t a physical job exercise?”

The participants also briefly discussed how the process of aging is presented in the media.

The participants agreed that males are often portrayed as being capable of the same things they did when they were younger, yet that standard is not the same for women.

They also mentioned that there are many advertisements that attempt to sell anti-aging cosmetics and garments to women.

Lachman mentioned how she had her students do an assignment on “anti-anti-aging.” The assignment, she said, encouraged students to come up with an ad that was against anti-aging.

Abrahams said that, looking toward the future, she hopes for more employer empathy and support for older workers.

Blanton noted that she wants to see more government support for the elderly, adding that “more government support would help pass policies that can help older employees.” Lachman emphasized the importance of “intergenerational involvement” and added that she believes that efforts made by younger generations on behalf of older generations can bring a lot of strengths to the working force.

Barnett concluded the discussion, touching on the ways the media’s representation of senior citizens differs from reality. “We see a disconnect between what scientists are learning and how the media is portraying that domain. We want to connect the two in an accurate way,” he said.

The event was sponsored by Diana Meehan and Gary David Goldberg.