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International Women’s Day: Two ends of the age spectrum

Posted: Thursday 8 March 12, 12.49pm GMT

Blog by Helen Wells, Director, Business in the Community's Opportunity Now

There is a lovely synergy to the themes of this year’s International Women’s Day – Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures – with the naming of 2012 as European Year of Active Ageing. With an ageing population, a multi-generational workforce to manage and an increasing body of research which suggests the disparities of gender equality become exaggerated with age, it is vital that employers are familiar with the issues associated with advancing older women in our workplaces. Recognising the specific needs of younger women, and inspiring the women and girls who are entering the workforce, is the other side of this coin.

The number of people aged 65 and over still in work has been rising steadily, even during the recession. Many of them already have access to employment and simply intend to carry on working either because they find their jobs fulfilling, or because they need to financially. A quarter of the total current workforce already plans to work beyond 65.

Women aged 60-64 are the fastest growing group of economically active older people and their participation in the labour market has been rising steeply since the mid-nineties.

Disparities between male and female advancement in the workplace become more prevalent with age. As male workers grow older they are more likely to make it into managerial positions, which is less true of older women workers. A study by the London School of Economics found that at age twenty, the same percentage of men and women were in management positions -5%. However by age 45, this had risen to around 23% for men, but just 11% for women. The inequalities are stark, and Opportunity Now members are well placed to act on them.

This International Women’s Day the UN is calling on all of us to do all we can to engage and inspire young women and girls. So many of the challenges faced now by older women at work are rooted in choices made at school and during early careers. Occupational segregation is a key root cause of the gender pay gap, because not enough girls and young women are choosing career paths that take them into high paid jobs in engineering or financial services.

We know that sticky floors, cement ceilings, the gender pay gap, unbalanced boards and broader issues of gender inequality are still present in our working lives. A hope for the future is that the efforts of today will open up new, fairer career pathways for young girls, which weren’t necessarily open to their mothers and grandmothers, and that are based on merit, not gender.

International Women’s day is a chance to take stock and reconsider where we are on women’s equality. Our goal must be to make the change that means that today’s young girls can finally break through the barriers to women’s progression.

Read more at the Opportunity Now Food for Thought Factsheet – Women and Age

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