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Dianne Bown

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Blog: Does gender equality stretch to pensions?

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In the clean and well-rewarded land of management it’s easy to believe that the situation for women at work isn’t really too bad these days and to overlook what’s actually going on at the employment coalface – particularly in respect of older working women.
While we managers, diversity specialists and HR professionals focus our attention on the niceties of gender equality such as adequate representation of women in boardrooms, thousands of older women are spending their final working years in low skilled jobs with poor remuneration and absolutely no prospect of promotion.
This situation was brought into stark focus by the publication of a recent (June 2012) report by the Office for National Statistics which revealed the number of people now working past state pension age has nearly doubled in past 20 years – from 753,000 in 1993 to 1.4 million in 2011.
Of these, 39 per cent are men and 61 per cent are women. Now this in itself is no bad thing bearing in mind that with the new longevity many older people actively want to keep on working past retirement – particularly women whose state pension age currently is still around 60.
However, when you look at what all these older workers are doing the picture isn’t quite that rosy.
Retirement into poverty
Although a high proportion (32%) of older workers are self-employed (compared with just 13% of those below retirement age) the remainder demonstrate shocking differences in terms of the types of work undertaken by men and women.
Around two-thirds of post-retirement working men are in jobs classed as higher skilled – such as property managers, marketing and sales directors, production managers and chief executives of organisations. 
On the other hand almost two-thirds of female older workers above state pension age (and remember there are a lot more of them) work in lower skilled jobs –  the most common job being cleaners, followed by administration assistants, care workers and retail assistants.
How does one interpret this? Does it reflect the success of feminism in that the majority of working women have accumulated their own good pension from their position in the workplace and have been able to retire with no need to keep working?
Or does it mirror the abject failure of the current system which means that many women are still unable to survive independently in older age without a partner’s pension (which may provide them with the means to retire) and have inadequate pension provision of their own?
Regrettably, we know from other statistics that the latter situation is true. Many women now and in coming decades are facing their retirement years in poverty. Please let’s not forget this in our enthusiasm for greater gender equality in other areas of working life. 
 
Dianne Bown-Wilson is chief executive of in my prime, a consultancy specialising in the requirements of older workers.
 
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