THE BLOG

Older and Wiser? Give Women in Their 50s a Chance

17/06/2014 15:22 BST | Updated 17/08/2014 10:59 BST

Take a quick look around your office - how many desks are occupied by women over 50? I know that the 'fairer sex' are supposedly sensitive about revealing their ages but the issue of unemployment in the over 50s is not something to be coy about.

Having just reached the milestone age myself, it's an issue close to my heart. But I don't just speak for myself. The fact is that there are 50,000 more unemployed women aged 50 and above compared to 2010 figures, according to the Office for National Statistics. That's a sizable increase of 45%. And by 2020, projections suggest there will be many more people in their 50s in the UK and fewer people in their 40s.

The situation doesn't look any rosier when you consider changes to the State pension. Currently both men and women will need to reach the age of 65 by 2018 to qualify, then 66 by 2020, 67 by 2028 and 69 by the 'late-2040s'. That's almost 20 years' worth of employable years after they reach their 50th birthday.

Whereas over 50s already in employment might be valued by colleagues for being dependable and hardworking, that picture switches around when companies are recruiting. Employers may have younger candidates in mind or be worried about health and productivity of older workers they don't know.

My key message? Don't write off 'older' women - they have experience and, most importantly, life experience - they can make sound decisions. 50 is the new 40 - we are a different generation to our mothers and grandmothers before us and come with a different attitudes and approach to life. Just consider that it's not young men driving the recent 25% boom in convertible sales but women in their 50s*; women who've reached a new era and are embracing it.

The work ethic of the over 50s is also ingrained and impressive. They are reliable, loyal and motivated workers who bring dedication to a role. They come armed with skills and knowledge, and approach decision making with maturity and confidence.

Decades' worth of experience mean their organisational and communication skills are second to none and they are empathetic and naturally adept at customer relations. Plus they act as good mentors to younger workers.

But as we all know, it's not just the softer measures but the effect on your bottom line that can tip the balance. Here, too, the argument holds up. Nationwide, the building society, reports their annual turnover for older staff is four percent versus 10 per cent for younger workers, with those recruited in their 50s plus staying for an average of 13 years**. Whilst McDonalds reports an impressive 20% higher performance in outlets that employ workers over the age of 60***.

And whilst some businesses worry about health complaints for staff actually they generally have fewer short- term absences than their younger counterparts. B&Q reports that absenteeism is 39 per cent lower among their older workers**.

Obviously there are exceptions to any rule - but I'm drawing on 30 years' working experience as well as cold hard stats, and I know I echo the views of colleagues around me too.

The longer you're unemployed, the more your confidence is affected - so the older women actively searching for positions need to be given a chance. The over-50s are going to have to make a big contribution to filling job vacancies and responding to jobs growth in the next decade so we should embrace them and the many benefits they bring. And we should start now.

So take another look around the desks in your office and consider which ones are already filled with skilled women over their half century, and which unoccupied ones could be. It's time to free us from those pigeon holes and think about women who've clocked up half a century as we really are - experienced, empathetic and energetic employees. And don't be at all surprised if we pull up to the interview in our new soft-top.

*Source: Daily Mail,http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2649082/50-women-drive-25-boom-soft-car-sales-ditch-constraints-family-vehicles.html

**Source: TAEN - The Age and Employment Network in association with the European Social Fund and the Department for Work and Pensions

***Source: Department for Work and Pensions