Older Women in the Workplace seminar
Women in the UK aged between 50 and 59 earn on average 20.5% less than their male counterparts, facing a gender pay gap significantly larger than the UK-wide gap of 14.2%, therefore it is clear that the impact of women’s labour market inequality is compounded over a working lifetime.
Older women face a particular set of barriers to equality in the labour market. Having primary responsibility for caring limits women’s choices and opportunities in the workplace, impacts their earnings and places pressure on both their careers and their health. Older women in particular are impacted as they often balance work whilst being ‘sandwiched’ between caring for older people as well as for children and grandchildren. Older women are also the group least likely to receive training in the workplace. Many women identify confidence as a barrier to accessing learning opportunities in the workplace. However, it is not women’s lack of confidence in their own capabilities, but confidence in the fairness of the system or processes by which training opportunities are accessed. Historically, women have also faced disadvantage in occupational pensions schemes compared with men. Women are less likely to be in work and have access to occupational pension schemes and, when they are in work, they experience lower rates of pay and so are less able to contribute to a pension. As women on average earn less than men, any salary-related pension will also tend to be less. The result of this is that, despite a slight reduction since 1994/95, over two-thirds of pensioners living in poverty are women.
In partnership with One Workplace Equal Rights and the STUC Women’s Committee, last week we held a seminar to explore how trade unions could better support older women in the workplace. During the seminar we heard from three speakers on a range of issues which disproportionately impact older women. Kathleen Bolt from Support@Work Legal spoke about the legal protections and remedies available to support older women in the workplace, and highlighted some useful resources which delegates could use to inform any action they might take. Roshini Sharma Joshi of Trust Housing Association discussed examples of negative assumptions often made about older women, and asked why employers are so quick to focus on perceived negatives of an aging workforce, and ignore the benefits of the experience which comes with it. Delegates also received an insight into how health issues associated with older women might be better dealt with through proactive preventative strategies and simple adjustments in the workplace.
During the round table session, delegates discussed issues they had encountered in their own workplaces. It was agreed that, although a lack of confidence is an issue often highlighted by older women in relation to accessing training, it is not confidence in their own capabilities, but confidence in the fairness of the system or processes by which training opportunities are accessed. Delegates also spoke of the need to raise awareness of the issues faced by older women among the wider trade union movement by including a focus on gender discrimination as part of trade union reps’ training programmes. It was agreed by all delegates that it is essential that women’s equality is at the forefront of the trade union bargaining agenda, as it has long been shown that by tackling women’s inequality we also tackle broader social inequality.
At the seminar we launched a suite of publications containing information and suggested actions which trade union reps can take to tackle the particular barriers faced by older women. The publications cover balancing work with care, access to skills development and training, health and safety issues, and women’s inequality in retirement. You can download a copy of these publications here.
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Older Women in the Workplace: Balancing work with care This briefing covers some of the issues affecting older working women with caring responsibilities.
Older Women in the Workplace: Equal pay and pensions: women's inequality in retirement This publication highlights some of the key areas where women are disadvantaged in the UK pensions system.
Older Women in the Workplace: Health and safety issues This briefing covers some of the health and safety issues affecting older working women.
Older Women in the Workplace: The benefit of experience: older women's access to skills development and training This briefing covers some of the development and training issues affecting older working women.