Employers should ensure they monitor pay, progression and training take-up by age, according to a report that finds women over 50 face a plethora of inequalities at work, including worries about age and sex discrimination.
Research conducted for Scotland’s Fair Work Convention by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) found that older women in Scotland were often reluctant to progress in their careers and were concerned about age discrimination.
The study looked at the experiences of women over 50 in two employment sectors: finance and insurance and information and communications.
Interviews with 17 women and 13 employers found women frequently expressed a reluctance to pursue internal and external opportunities for progression and some were reluctant to participate in training. This was often because they wanted to avoid the potential stress and pressure they connected with progression.
Age and sex discrimination
Some identified their age and sex as key barriers to their progression and general sense of wellbeing at work. They also had concerns about their health, experiences of the menopause and caring responsibilities.
The employers recognised that women could perceive their gender as a barrier to progression, but few felt that age and the intersection between age and gender caused women difficulty in furthering their careers.
While many of the larger employers had diversity strategies that included targets on gender and the gender pay gap, they did not include age in these strategies.
The researchers also found that:
- Recruitment and promotion procedures were a barrier to older women’s career progression, with many stating these had become more complex and demanding
- Older women were hesitant to put themselves forward for a promotion because they felt employers would “stigmatise” them as less productive or less efficient
- A predominance of young people in management roles contributed to over 50s’ concerns about their prospects within an organisation
- Older women were concerned about their capacity to use new or complex technology and their ability to meet performance criteria related to their competence with tech
- Some women had direct experiences of unequal pay or had routinely observed this at work. A small number had challenged their employer about this in the past, but the majority hadnot.
Fair Work Convention co-chairs Mary Alexander and Patricia Findlay said: “We know the challenges faced by women at work do not simply start when a woman turns 50. The impacts of workplace policies and practices that systematically disadvantage women build cumulatively over an individual’s career.
“The Fair Work Convention calls on employers to take urgent action to support older women at work. Employers, the Scottish Government and trade unions all have a role to play in addressing this longstanding and deep-seated inequality, and it cannot just be left to individual older women to address these difficult issues on their own. Our research and response piece gives clear actions that employers and other can take today to improve fair work for older women.”
The report’s recommendations for employers include:
- consider ways to better monitor how recruitment, pay and progression in their organisations are affected by age, and consider how the gender pay gap can affect women of different ages in different ways
- raise awareness of their gender pay gap, particularly organisations that do not have to report their pay gap to the government
- improve transparency around pay structures
- support women over 50 to navigate recruitment and promotion processes
- provide a more supportive environment around the use of technology
- increase opportunities for flexible and home working
- provide menopause support
- developing guidelines for talking about retirement at work.
Katharine Stockland, senior social researcher at NIESR, said: “In order to address these challenges around pay and progression experienced by this group of women, employers must reflect on their workplace practices and consider to what extent their training, support and promotion opportunities reflect the needs of this group of women. Especially in the context of labour shortages that have been driven partly by older workers dropping out of the labour market, employers should act now.”