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Let’s Stamp Out Ageism and Sexism for Older Women Workers

Equality - 29 Mar 2021

GMB activist Margi Clarke highlights workplace inequalities for older women

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I’m Margi Clarke, Branch Secretary for GMB Asda A15 Branch, and I’d like to tell you about the problems that older women face in the workplace and the barriers that many have to cross.

My branch consists of mainly part time women workers of all ages. Older women are often subjected to ageism, sexism, lack of training and progression in the workplace. This is unacceptable and it’s difficult to comprehend that in the 21st Century women are still subjected to this type of treatment.

There are four main areas covering the issues that some women in later working life experience :

• Gender role issues
• Health-related issues
• Financial issues
• Professional esteem and training issues.

Gender roles

For many older women it is a struggle to balance family life and work life responsibilities, whether they are caring for parents, grandchildren - or both, as so many women do.

Some even care for partners as well – leading to us being called the Sandwich Carer Generation. It is very difficult to get that balance right. It is even more difficult when your employer is not at all sympathetic to your needs.

This creates anxiety and stress for many older women, who very often help out with caring to the point that without them families would struggle financially and emotionally.

Health issues

Many older women suffer health problems, so this is extremely difficult for them and they have to constantly struggle to keep the ship afloat. Some women have to carry on working past pension age.

In some cases, it’s because they enjoy working and wish to remain engaged in their career – but many workplaces are flexible in working with the health issues that working into older age can come with. Studies have shown that menopause symptoms can have a significant impact on attendance and performance in the workplace.

The menopause is an organisational issue and employers need to know how to support their staff. Awareness of the menopause is fundamental and reducing the stigma attached to it is vital so more people will talk openly about it – so I’m thrilled that GMB has just launched our new national Menopause in the Workplace: Smash the Stigma! toolkit.

Many members in Margi's GMB branch are older women workers

Financial issues

Older women working longer are affected by low pay and poor career prospects. The lack of respect that women and older workers get in the workplace means it is difficult to progress out of low paid or part time work, having a scarring effect on wages.

Being a part-time worker increases the probability of being low paid for a longer time. There are 3 times more women aged 50-64 working part-time than men: that’s 1.98 million women.

The gender pay gap is many times higher for older women workers that it is for younger women. Women over 50 working full-time earn a shocking 12.8% less per hour than men over 50.

We are facing a long-term unemployment crisis for older workers. 2.7 Million Workers aged 50 or over have been furloughed. This means that 400,000 in this age group are at risk of redundancy.

Professional esteem and training issues

While many of us have moved our lives online, there are 4 million people over the age of 65 in the UK who have never used the internet and have not been able to chat to family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women who have been shielding because of underlining health issues have gone days without speaking to anyone and have been left feeling unloved, unwanted and forgotten. For the first time in their lives they have experienced loneliness and their lives have changed in so many ways.

Inside the workplace, digital skills are essential too – many women could be missing out on jobs because they haven’t been given the opportunity to learn. Workers over 50 are the least likely to be offered off-the-job training.

The TUC's Unionlearn project has been delivering great digital training to workers of all ages - but the government has withdrawn funding from the Union Learning Fund which will have dramatic impact on union learning.

Luckily, the GMB offers lots of learning opportunities to members – including entry level digital skills courses from Wranx.

Let's continue our fight

It is very difficult to comprehend that women are still experiencing all of these horrendous attitudes in the workplace. Sexism, ageism - older women experience this on a regular basis at work. We need to educate and raise awareness enabling us to help to stamp out these awful acts once and for all – to make work so much easier for older women who are constantly on the receiving end of cruel jibes.

Many of us know of shocking examples in the workplace. We need to work to influence employers to ensure that training opportunities are available to all. We need to make sure that older women are not discouraged or denied the opportunity to develop their skills.

We demand respect and dignity in our working lives, and we will campaign until we achieve this.

We may have to move mountains and we will. We are strong minded older women.

We will continue with our fight for equality to help our generations of women in the future.

We need better policy in the workplace so our daughters and granddaughters will read this in our history books and rest assured that this is the past way of working life and not the future!

Margaret (Margi) Clarke has been a GMB member for over 30 years. She sits on the GMB Central Executive Council, National Equalities Forum, National Retired Members Committee and Birmingham and West Midlands Regional Committee and Regional Council. Margi is a member of the Labour Party National Constitutional Committee.

Sources: ONS, 2019 and 2020; Centre for Ageing Better

Read more: GMB Women Workers

GMB's menopause toolkit: Smash the Stigma!

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