Lorna Kettles: Employers need to wise up on older women

OLDER women face increased barriers when accessing, sustaining and progressing in employment; increased retirement age, sex discrimination, a higher gender pay gap, pension shortfalls and, often, a lack of formal qualifications are all contributing factors.

Initial findings from a Scottish Women’s Convention (SWC) online survey show that real barriers exist for older women. With public sector cuts resulting in job losses, many in lower and middle grades are being made redundant. This, coupled with little private sector investment, means older women are finding it difficult to enter and sustain work at a level which meets their skills and qualifications. When does a woman suddenly become old?

There are perceptions that older women are comparatively less capable and lack motivation. These women hold a wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise. Surely that must be acknowledged and recognised by employers.

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Women are living longer and are in better health than their mothers were at their age, but many are still regarded as “past it” once they hit a certain age. This outdated attitude doesn’t make sense. Women are being denied work opportunities when they are still as productive as men.

A conference, being held in Glasgow on Saturday, 6 April by the SWC, will bring together older women from throughout Scotland to discuss these issues and workplace experiences. Miriam O’Reilly, who successfully sued the BBC for age discrimination after she was dropped as a presenter of Countryfile, will speak at the event. Her landmark case forced the BBC and other broadcasters to look at how they select presenters in the future. TV programmes will now rightfully have to reflect how society really looks.

Attitudes towards older women must change. More women over 50 are working but experience a higher gender pay gap. Older women need support to develop in the workplace – they have a wealth of experience and expertise to offer and this must be valued. Unless this is recognised, employers will continue to lose one of their most valuable resources.

• Lorna Kettles is research advisor for Scottish Womens Convention. www.scottishwomensconvention.org