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