Today is International Women’s Day. It was originally called International Working Women’s day and was established to support equal rights, including suffrage. It means many things to many people and now celebrates economic, political and social achievements of women.
It is interesting to reflect on this day that even though we have come very far, there is still a lot of work to do in regard to women’s rights.
The baby boomer generation has a lot to thank for where we are today. They rose up for women’s rights with the women’s liberation movement and removed many barriers and stereotypes. Today as women we enjoy freedom to choose a career and life for ourselves and do not have to put up with blatant discrimination and sexism.
However, the Diversity Council of Australia reports that we still have a long way to go before women are truly equal with men in the workforce. In particular, for the over 60s they have found that mature-age women only earn two thirds of the income of mature-age men, have significantly lower workforce participation than men, are more likely to be underemployed than men and retire earlier with around half the superannuation of men of the same age.
It seems that age discrimination issues for women is still incredibly prominent.
We spoke to Jody* who thinks that the problem could be related to the age and gender bias at management level.
“Where I work all the managers are male and they have pre-conceived notions about the limits and capabilities of over 60s women.”
“I get frustrated when I see younger people coming in and are promoted, over an older person just because they have a university degree. The older person might have all the experience in the world, but does not get a chance to look in because they do not have the bit of paper”.
“Then there are obvious frustrations and issues that arise from a younger, less experienced employee managing a more experienced older worker,” she said.
Another example is Sue* who lost her job last July and is struggling even to get an interview. Her age is clearly a barrier and gets passed over by many HR Managers.
“Everyone in my age bracket is tarred with the same brush. I have friends who are in a similar position who just can’t get interviews or just can’t get the hours of work they need,” she said.
Jody goes onto also explains that in her workplace many older people get passed over for training opportunities because they are perceived to be too old. She recalls a course that she had to fight to be put onto.
“I was finally allowed to attend the leadership course, but had to pay part of it myself. I heard later that management had said that ‘why bother’ she is over 60 so won’t be here long.”
“This really got to me because many younger people change roles every 2 years, I intent to work much later in my 60s so this thinking just doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Jody believes that training could be a big part of the solution.
“I know that Government receives contribution for training and development of staff. Perhaps a portion of this could be allocated the mature workers to help them become more proficient in their roles and help to put them on an even playing field with their younger team members,” she said.
Women also seem to be the hardest hit. The average life expectancy for women is much longer than men so often they will be by themselves later in life. Work provides access to greater financial security, as well as enhanced social support, satisfaction, self-esteem and mental and physical health.
At a national level, the Productivity Commission has found that increasing older women’s labour participation rates to match men’s could increase per capita GDP growth to 2044-45 by 1.5%.
But it is not all bad news, right now, smart employers are no longer making assumptions about older workers’ retirement plans but instead are instead ensuring they develop talent across their workforce, inclusive of all ages and genders.
So on this International Women’s Day let’s give a big thanks to those smart businesses who are harnessing this large untapped resource. For the others, we need to take a page from the women’s liberation movement and raise the awareness of these big issues.
We need to encourage workplaces to employ, train and develop older workers as a significant resource and not consider them to be a burden. We need to offer greater flexibility to older workers who still want to remain in the workforce but perhaps want to scale down their hours and in particular we need to promote on merit, using the experience and expertise of older works to lead and manage teams. There is so much to gain by levelling out the age issues in our workplace so let’s keep the pressure and awareness of these issues on the current employers and management of today to drive this forward.
What has been your experience as an older person in the workplace… Have you experienced age discrimination? Or perhaps you work for an employer who has been supportive?