Equity for older women in the workplace: a (wo)manifesto

Zone
5 min readMar 8, 2023

This International Women’s Day, Joss Anderson, Principal Employee Experience Strategist at Zone, discusses #EmbracingEquity in support of UK women over 50 feeling pressured to leave the workforce.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, women over 50 in the UK are leaving the workforce at higher rates than their male counterparts, with many citing discrimination and a lack of career opportunities as key reasons.

Despite progress made in recent years towards gender equality, women over 50 are more likely to experience ageism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the workplace; the psychological impact of inequity in the workplace for women over 50 can be significant, and can have lasting effects on their mental health, well-being, and overall job satisfaction.

In October 2021, a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the Centre for Ageing Better found that the pandemic has disproportionately affected women over 50 in the UK. The employment rate for women aged 50–69 fell from 70.3% in 2020 to 64.2% in 2021, a larger drop than for men in the same age group.

Women over 50 were more likely to be furloughed or made redundant during the pandemic and less likely to return to work after being furloughed; this is partly due to women over 50 being more likely to work in sectors that were particularly affected by the pandemic, such as hospitality and retail.

The financial impact of inequity

The earnings of older women are affected by the intersection of gender and age discrimination, so older female workers are at even greater risk of staying in low pay compared to the earnings of men in similar positions than their younger female counterparts.

The intersection of gender and age bias may make it difficult for women in this age bracket to secure new job opportunities, and they are at risk of earning lower pay than men or their younger female counterparts. Despite a raft of equality legislation over the past few decades, the overall gender pay gap currently stands at 14.9%, and it widens to the greatest extent when workers reach their 50s.

Adding to the mix is the greater likelihood of caring for elderly parents or grandchildren, where women over 50 typically have fewer job opportunities, lower salaries and limited career advancement.

Inequity in women’s pensions is also a significant issue, particularly for women approaching retirement age. In the UK, pensions are based on a person’s lifetime earnings, which disadvantages women from the outset because of lower pay — but women are also more likely to work part-time or in industries that are typically low paid, which can limit their retirement savings.

Women are also more likely to take time off work to care for children or elderly relatives, which can further reduce their ability to build up a solid income for retirement. Research by Legal & General indicates that men over 50 have nearly twice as much saved in their pension pots as women, and a staggering quarter of women over 50 have less than £5,000 in their pension pot.

Addressing inequity in women’s pensions is crucial to ensuring that women are financially secure in retirement and can enjoy a comfortable standard of living in their later years.

The psychological impact of inequity

As well as being disadvantaged financially, older women who feel unfairly treated may experience feelings of frustration, anger, and disengagement, which can result in them leaving their jobs, especially those who have already faced multiple challenges throughout their careers and are feeling undervalued and underappreciated.

Inequity can also lead to low self-esteem and reduced confidence in one’s abilities. Women over 50 who are dealing with discrimination may feel as if they are not meeting their own or others’ expectations, leading to feelings of despair, anxiety and depression, which can negatively impact both mental and physical health.

Furthermore, inequity can cause increased stress and burnout for women over 50. This can be due to the added pressure of having to prove themselves, feeling unsupported or undervalued, and dealing with multiple responsibilities outside of work, consequently affecting job performance and leading to a negative cycle of exhaustion.

Impostor syndrome is also common among women over 50 who feel undeserving of their achievements or afraid of being exposed as frauds. This can lead to feelings of self-doubt and a lack of confidence, which can also negatively impact job performance and well-being.

A (wo)manifesto for fairness and equity

I propose a (wo)manifesto for organisations that are serious about creating and maintaining equity, which includes:

· Developing listening strategies to better understand the experiences of women over 50 in the workplace. This involves actively seeking their feedback — such as listening to their stories, observing their behaviour, and understanding their needs and aspirations — to inform organisational policies and practices

· Creating a supportive and inclusive work environment that values the skills and contributions of all employees, regardless of their age or gender. This could involve promoting diversity and inclusion and addressing ageism, sexism, and gender bias in the workplace by providing unconscious bias training, regular feedback and recognition for employees’ work, and ensuring that everyone has access to the same opportunities and benefits

· Providing equal opportunities for career development and progression, regardless of age or gender. This could include training opportunities, mentoring programmes that pair women over 50 with more experienced colleagues, networking events to connect with peers and build professional relationships, and flexible working arrangements that enable them to balance work and caring responsibilities while still advancing in their careers.

· Providing fair and equitable compensation, including pay and benefits, to all employees. This could involve conducting regular pay equity audits to identify and address gender or age-based pay gaps, providing retirement benefits, and offering competitive salaries and benefits packages to attract and retain top talent.

· Prioritising employee well-being and work-life balance, recognising that women over 50 may be dealing with multiple responsibilities, including caring for elderly parents or grandchildren. This could involve offering flexible working arrangements, such as remote work or reduced hours, providing employee assistance programs, and promoting a culture of work-life balance and self-care.

None of the above is rocket science, so it begs the question: why aren’t more organisations doing more to attract, engage and retain older women?

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to recognise and address the challenges facing women over 50 in the workplace. By addressing these and creating a more inclusive workplace, organisations can foster a more engaged and motivated workforce and attract and retain top talent regardless of age or gender.

Which, by the way, is the law!

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