Responding to the launch of the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry into the impact of the gender pay gap on women over 40, Rachael Saunders, Age at Work Director, Business in the Community, said:
“Older women’s pay is affected by a ‘concertina effect’ of less access to university education and the professions than men of the same age, unequal access to well-paid work and compounded gender and age discrimination. We need to understand the impact of this cumulative discrimination to ensure these experiences are not repeated for future generations and this is something we hope the inquiry will address.
“Our Missing Million research shows older women are also more likely to leave their jobs due to caring responsibilities, and that older workers struggle to re-enter the workforce at the same salary. This will impact on their earnings and may lead to financial concerns around retirement. As we are all living and working longer, it is urgent we tackle this so older women have fulfilling and well-paid work and employers benefit from their experience and knowledge.
“One barrier to longer working lives is that some groups, including low-paid women, struggle to access jobs they can do in later life. We need to place more value on ‘traditional’ women’s roles such as caring and childcare and treat the women doing that work fairly. By regarding their skills as transferable, their access to a wider range of careers is opened up, enabling a longer working life and helping employers avoid a recruitment black hole.”
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Kathryn Nawrockyi, Gender Equality Director, Business in the Community, also warned about the impact of occupational segregation on women of all ages.
“We welcome the inquiry and its focus on older women, as women in their fifties face the widest pay gap of any age group. Whilst it is important that this inquiry does not duplicate the government consultation on gender pay gap reporting, any additional evidence that supports employers to understand the barriers faced by older women will be valuable.
“We often hear rhetoric about the gender pay gap having been virtually eliminated for women under 40. However unless we do more to tackle the barriers faced by women in their early years, we will continue to see these accumulate, resulting in a significant gender pay gap later in life.
“The Resolution Foundation reported that 36 per cent of women in their twenties will earn less than the living wage next year. Many of them will be working in low-paid, unstable, ‘feminised’ jobs which they may struggle to escape, leaving them trapped in a cycle of poverty. If we do not increase the number of women in higher paid and valued sectors such as tech and engineering, we will continue to perpetuate these norms and women’s earning power will never be in sync with men’s. We need a long-term vision to tackle occupational segregation and close the gender pay gap for all women.”