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What Older Women Really Bring To The Workforce

If a woman at 45 fears ageism, how should one at 65 feel? We all know that whilst compulsory retirement is no longer legal, there are other ways to undercut and undervalue a member of staff who is perceived to have outlived their purpose.

Since 2012, there has been a reported 5.5% increase in the number of women working past 70.

The social assumption of this is that these women are forced - either by circumstance or otherwise - to remain at work, or return to low-paid, low-value positions 'to keep themselves active'.

20th Century Fox, The Devil Wears Prada

I find this to be a patronising, overly simplistic cliché. Many of these women are continuing their careers as a simple consequence of improved life-long health meaning they simply aren't ready for the scrap heap just yet.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that this isn't also motivated by increasingly squeezed pensions - it often is. But not as many of these women resent this as is perhaps assumed.

Take into consideration, for example, the large number of 'mature-preneurs'. There's a significant rise of women in their fifties and beyond setting up extremely successful businesses.

Women like Rosemary Conley and Build-a-Bear founder Maxine Clarke are shining examples of how determination makes success - regardless of age. These women - and I include myself here - are often fit, active, style-conscious and more than a little determined to avoid sinking into some sort of invisible oblivion.

It's also not a coincidence that KFC, McDonald's, and Coca-Cola were all founded by people in their fifties and sixties. Certainly, didn't do their brands any harm!

Why should they then be forced at 65 to sacrifice their gains for some obligatory red line in the sand on their value to the workforce? If you're fit, able and mentally challenging yourself why wouldn't you want to stay at work? After all, it's not a coincidence that the rise in the age at which people retire voluntarily started to go up after the abolition of compulsory retirement in 2011.

Of course, for the women born in the fifties who are being forced to work longer, this is of little comfort, but there is good news even in that tricky situation.

Retiring later in the UK can lead to an increase of 10.4% on your pension for each year of deferral - that's as much as 50% in five years. Given the increases in health and wellbeing, and slowing down in signs of ageing, 70 now could well be deemed a similar point to 60 fifteen years ago in terms of future years.

The current figures suggest that a third of us can expect to reach 100. That means that 20 million of us could face 35 years out of work if we decided to give up now. With the average cost of post-retirement living at £14,000 per year plus, that extra 50% could well be very necessary indeed to avoid poverty in the very final days of our lives.

There is increasing research that giving up work entirely can be detrimental to our mental and emotional health, leading to financial strain and loneliness.

Given that as many as half of women over 70 claims to have experienced loneliness because of their increasing age, and many are single, so not looking forwards to travelling the world with a partner, remaining at work provides a social benefit and structure to what might otherwise be very long days.

What does concern me is the potential for ageism. I wrote a short while ago about the rise in women having surgery in their forties and fifties to render themselves 'ageless', because of fears that they'd no longer be considered as 'sharp' or valuable to their teams.

If a woman at 45 fears ageism, how should one at 65 feel? We all know that whilst compulsory retirement is no longer legal, there are other ways to undercut and undervalue a member of staff who is perceived to have outlived their purpose.

My suggestion to women worrying about this is to make their choices about their looks on what they feel is appropriate and instead concentrate on their skillset.

The average successful entrepreneur studies up to five hours a week to keep their minds sharp and their skills ahead of their competitors and I think everyone should be aiming for similar figures as they get older.

Ensuring that you know the current trends in your marketplace, that your skills remain sharp and that you show a constant commitment to learning is far more relevant to any employer than a line-free face.

Health is usually the primary concern when discussing older staff. Will they be forgetful, off constantly or a liability?

POPSUGAR, The Devil Wears Prada

On a personal level I know this isn't the case - my husband's aunt for example often joins me on my runs - at 79 she is a marathon runner with no intention of giving up. She has only just retired as a psychotherapist with a successful practice.

In a 2016 series on ageing in The Guardian, a Doctor Davies shared his experiences with the 60 somethings turning up (from work and vigorous fitness regimes) with aches and pains that they are stunned to discover might be caused by ageing! We simply don't get older, until much later these days.

If that means we want, and can, do our jobs until we're ready to say otherwise, then I say, why shouldn't we? And for me, well I'll stop work when I say so - not when society does!

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