Many years ago, when I began my working life, I was told I could retire at 60, 60 became 62, then 65 and now, as the goal posts move yet again, its 67 and counting. In fact, the prospect of actually retiring one day seems to be moving further and further away. The 50-year career is now a reality and we have to get used to it. But how does this affect people, what are the challenges we face and does it affect men and women differently?
At Belina’s Roundtable discussion about the 50-year career there were many opinions and observations debated. Belina was joined by a variety of organisations, all focused on supporting women and all equipped with a deep knowledge of what women really need in order to get back to work. Flexibility, agile working, childcare, benefits and low pay were the key issues on the agenda but it was clear that this was just the surface and that there are many more considerations.
Firstly, women need to feel supported. Women, and particularly those who have children, can experience many anxieties about employment and how having a job might affect their life and their family’s lives. They need someone they can talk to that listens and understands their issues and can signpost them to get support they need on subjects such as benefits and childcare. They need to feel valued. Ayan Yahye from Faith Regeneration spoke eloquently at the roundtable event about how women need to be recognised for their achievements as mothers and for the extraordinary role they play within their families. What they don’t need is to feel they have no value because they don’t have a job.
Women need to feel confident, not just in themselves and their ability to re-join the workforce, but confident that they are doing the best for their families and their children in returning to work. Many women feel a huge burden that they are juggling their work and their families and not giving their best to either. These are important considerations for women and they need to have specialist support from people who can help them think their issues through and then help them to overcome their challenges so they can see employment as a positive step.
My firm belief is that women are almost always happier if they are in work. Work offers independence, increases confidence and provides an opportunity to maintain a lifestyle of choice. We do, however, need to ensure that the right type of work is available. Unfortunately, in the current climate there are many turn-offs for women looking to return to work – most vacancies advertised are heavily weighted towards full time positions and there are still horror stories reported in the news that are likely to deter women from work “Temp gets sent home for not wearing high heels; No job available for me after maternity leave; gender pay gap continues” to name but a few. Not very encouraging if you’ve been a long way from work for a long time!
We hear a lot about new ways of working that should offer more opportunities for women but whilst the gig economy and zero contract hours enables flexibility not all employers offer these terms and, often they can be poorly paid with no guaranteed income. It’s not just low skilled positions affected by today’s working landscape either; more professional women in jobs such as teaching are being forced to leave the profession due to longer working hours that are not conducive to a work/life balance. Many employers who offer part-time positions only do so on the basis of the work being undertaken at weekends and evenings – not easy for a working mother and especially so if you’re a lone parent or caring for ageing parents.
Employers still have a long way to go if they are serious about tapping into the significant skills and talents that women at work can offer. Women are notoriously proficient in multi-tasking, they typically have strong nurturing skills suited to personal and team development; they do better in achieving qualifications and they are extremely good at adapting to change. Yet despite all this, many employers, particularly large employers, do not actively recruit women and often it’s because it is still viewed as ‘too difficult’.
Making jobs that actually appeal and work well for women should be a priority in the millennium age. It is all of society’s responsibility to nurture and grow our young people into happy, creative and responsible adults if we want our society to thrive. It is in everybody’s interests to create an environment for people to be able to combine family and caring roles with work that helps them thrive as a unit.
So much of policy today is making life for women, particularly mothers, more challenging rather than easier. Laura Dewar from Gingerbread mentioned that commissioning of services and programmes still does not take into account the fact that parents have outside responsibilities and economic measures such as the benefit cap is pressurising many women to return to the workplace much sooner than they wish, even whilst pregnant or with newborn babies.
Even measures that have been set up to try to help women return to work have not always proven successful. This week the Institute of Economic Affairs has called for universal free childcare to be scrapped as families most in need of help are not getting it because Government subsidies are poorly targeted. With the news that many families on average earnings are spending more than a third of net income on childcare it is not surprising that it can be a challenge to convince women to feel motivated about returning to work and help them feel positively about it.
I was delighted though to meet so many great organisations at the roundtable event who are all absolutely dedicated to supporting women who do want or need to return to work. People like Jessie Bondswell from SimplyMums, a mother who has set up her own recruitment agency specialising in finding good work that works for women. Wendy at Working Chance who are the UK’s only specialist recruitment consultancy for women with criminal convictions and women care leavers; Working Families and Gingerbread’s Laura Dewar who is a policy campaigner for single parents and committed to promoting better quality work for mothers; Jan Townsend from Kennedy Scott our partner on the Help to Work Programme and and Ayan Yahee from Faith Regeneration who, like Belina are delivering local training opportunities for women as part of our BBO project Raising Aspirations. Thank you for all you do and thank you also to Sam Windett at ERSA for being a fantastic chair and to our two Token men, Thisara David from the IEP and Richard Brooks Fellow of the Insitute of Employability Professionals and Board member at ERSA.
It’s clear that now we’re living in the era of the 50 year career that we should all be doing more to make work “work” for women and that, in this changing landscape, specialist support and specialist knowledge of women and lone parents has never been so important.