Exploration of the Pay and Career Progression Experiences of Women Aged Over 50 in Scotland

Pub. Date
19 July, 2022
Pub. Type
woman sat at a computer, pay and progression

Executive summary

  • This report examines experiences of pay and progression among women over 50 years old working in Scotland in two specific sectors: the Finance and Insurance sector, and the Information and Communication sector. The research was conducted by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) on behalf of the Fair Work Convention. The project involved semi-structured video or telephone interviews with 17 women over 50 years old and with 13 employers.
  • Our research found that women frequently expressed a reluctance to pursue opportunities for progression, including internal and external opportunities, and – to a lesser extent – opportunities for training. This reluctance was typically explained by women as a wish to avoid the potential stress and pressure that they connected with progression. Most of the women in our study additionally felt that their capacity and desire to pursue opportunities for more pay and more responsibility had reduced as they had got older.
  • In talking about their views around work and progression, women reflected on how their past and ongoing experiences in the workplace had contributed to this association for them between progression, age, and unwanted stress. In particular, they identified factors relating to their age and gender as key barriers both to their progression and their general sense of well-being in the workplace. Women also spoke in depth about their wishes around working arrangements – and associated concerns around their health, experiences of the menopause, and caring responsibilities for others – and how these experiences contributed to their reluctance to pursue opportunities for progression.
  • All of the employers that we interviewed recognised, to varying degrees, that gender could be a barrier to progression in the workplace. By comparison, few employers in our study recognised that age – and particularly the intersection between age and gender – may also present a significant barrier to progression in the workplace. While many of the larger employers that we interviewed had diversity strategies that included targets and actions on gender and the gender pay gap (GPG), they did not include age in these strategies. Similarly, most of these employers regularly monitored recruitment, pay, and progression by gender but not by age. Smaller employers also typically stated that they did not see formal interventions or policies around age in their organisations to be necessary.
  • Employers did, however, recognise some of the issues faced by women over 50, particularly around the menopause, caring responsibilities, and working arrangements. They provided varying degrees of support in relation to these issues. Some employers also expressed concerns about what they saw as additional age-related issues in the workplace, such as training older workers in new technology, and the need to consider issues around retirement and succession. In these cases, employers often expressed uncertainty around how to talk appropriately and sensitively in the workplace about age.
  • Overall, our findings speak to the central role that workplace practices have in shaping the pay and progression experiences of women over 50. Our findings also speak to the importance of the five dimensions of fair work as set out in the Fair Work Convention’s Framework : effective voice, opportunity, security, fulfilment, and respect. As outlined in the Conclusion to this report, our recommendations focus particularly on the dimensions of opportunity, respect, and effective voice.
  • Finally, it is important to note that the evidence in this report is based on qualitative research that is not – and does not set out to be – representative of the wider population. Instead, the research has focused on generating in-depth insights on the lived experiences of 17 women over 50 working in two sectors, as well as on the concerns and priorities of 13 employers in these two sectors (further information on the methodology used, and its strengths and weaknesses, appears in Section 1.2 of Chapter 1).