A new survey by our sister site workingwise.co.uk highlights how a lifetime of issues affecting women at work affect their financial position in older age.
Gendered ageism crosses over both workingmums.co.uk and our sister site workingwise.co.uk in that many of the issues that contribute to women’s increased likelihood of encountering financial problems in older age begin or worsen when they have children. We have, for instance, long charted the long-term financial impact of career breaks and the unequal care burden faced by women as well as practical initiatives to reduce this, such as flexible working at all levels, equal parental leave policies and returner programmes that help them return to jobs where their experience and skills don’t go to waste.
These issues are cumulative and in part fuel the gender pension gap, which currently stands at 37.9%. That is much higher than the gender pay gap which, according to the Office for National Statistics, stands at 7.9% for full-time employees, but 15.4% for all employees – both up on 2020 figures. The ONS remarks that the gap significantly worsens as women enter their 40s, after many have children.
The issues affecting older women in the workplace have got some attention of late. For instance, there has been a lot of focus recently on the experience of menopausal women in the workplace, for instance, the Davina McCall programme and associated survey. This looked at the impact on work and other areas, where reports suggest high drop-out rates and an impact on working hours. The Women & Equalities Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into menopause in the workplace, with a view to considering if legislation is needed to prevent discrimination.
In part this is because the last few years have seen a significant increase in women’s participation in the labour market – especially older women after changes in the retirement age. However, there has also been a growing awareness of the number of older women who have dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic and are now classed as ‘economically inactive’. More research is needed into the reasons, the impact on longer-term financial wellbeing and on potential poverty and dependence in old age.
There have also been a crop of books and podcasts springing up in the last few years about gendered ageism. Bonnie Marcus, author of Not Done Yet!: How Women Over 50 Regain Their Confidence and Claim Workplace Power, conducted research mainly in the US, Canada and the UK in relation to older women’s experience in the workplace. Calling gendered ageism the next #MeToo movement for women, she says: “Researchers have concluded that ageing is a gendered process and that overall women face grave challenges and discrimination during the ageing process, particularly when it comes to financial and work-related matters.”
Now, therefore, seems to be the right time to shine a light on older women at work – not just how to retain them, in a labour market characterised by mass shortages, but also how to attract them back.
Our survey, sponsored by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, covers everything from the impact of the menopause, unequal caring responsibilities, career breaks, discrimination and other factors on the jobs women do, the hours they work, how they are rewarded, how they progress and what their pensions are. It also charts the ongoing effect of gendered ageism on older women’s career and retirement plans as well as employer initiatives that might help or are already helping to mitigate this.
We want to highlight the issues facing older women at work and to join the dots between gender diversity policies through a woman’s working life and how important it is for employers and policymakers to think about this in the round and to understand how it all links up over a working lifetime.
We have also recently published a free e-book, sponsored by Equinix, drawing attention to what some of the best employers are doing. You can download it free here.
*You can read the results of the gendered ageism survey on workingwise.co.uk later today.