Can human resource professionals address homelessness amongst older women?

An alarming number of women over 50 in Australia today are doing it tough. A lady I encountered in the Sydney CBD served as a stark reminder…

Thin as a rake; shaking from the cold wind; tattered clothes and shoes; bright, piercing blue eyes and hands outstretched. I stopped and talked with her. She said she was 66 and willing to work. But no one would offer her a job. Consequently, she’s now homeless and survives on just one meal a day.

Australia’s invisible women

The woman I met is a visible reminder of an otherwise invisible demographic. Homeless women over 55 are the fastest growing demographic of people experiencing homelessness.

Unfortunately, for homeless older women, they wear a double-layered invisibility cloak. The first layer is an outcome of the generally low value society attributes to older women. The second is their ‘hidden’ homelessness. To escape the dangers of living on the streets, many homeless women choose to stay in temporary accommodation or with friends. Alternatively they’ll couch-surf or live out of their cars – which is why the lady in the Sydney CBD was such a wake up call. We’re leaving so many women like her behind.

Prevention vs Cure: The 3 steps for Human Resources

Ageism continues to be an issue in the workplace. A survey conducted in 2015 by the Australian Human Rights Commission revealed that more than a quarter of Australians aged 50 years and over had experienced age discrimination in the workplace. In fact, there is more ageism in Australia than you might think, as this video shows.

Age discrimination is particularly pronounced for older women. Older women are too often dismissed as job candidates – especially after long career gaps due to child rearing or other caring responsibilities.  Yet, women bring enthusiasm, energy, experience, and soft skills to the working environment that can make a significant contribution to business processes and outcomes.

Furthermore, as we now live into our 80s and beyond, we are on the cusp of creating a new future for work and workplaces. Increasingly there’s changing attitudes towards work and retirement. Indeed, older people are working for longer and even younger people intend to work long past the traditional retirement age of 65.

To accommodate and leverage this attitudinal shift, reduce the inequities for women, and potentially contribute to a reduction in homelessness, HR professionals are invited to take these first 3 steps:

  1. Start the conversation about recruiting, training, and retaining older workers.
  2. Develop flexible work policies and practices that accommodate people’s changing needs. E.g. intergenerational job sharing
  3. Recognise that many people no longer consider 65 as ‘the end of the road’ for work. It’s time organisations harness the knowledge, skills, and expertise of older workers for the benefit of all.

But most importantly, recognise that a woman over 50 is someone to employ. She’s powerful and interesting. She seeks new challenges that have a purpose. Ultimately, she wants work that utilises her strengths, skills, and experience.

Final note: the power of work for older women

The causes of homelessness and poverty amongst older women in Australia vary. Aside from the provision of affordable housing, offering older women (and indeed all women) appropriate, flexible, and meaningful work and career options is essential to breaking the cycle of disadvantage. Moreover, employment pathways for older women** will be crucial to overcoming:

  • The 47% less superannuation women retire with compared to men (and they live 5 years longer than men on average); and
  • The 34% of women over 60 in permanent income poverty (compared to 27% of single older men and 24% of couples).


Here at Three Sisters Group, we work with organisations to build age-inclusive business strategies. Speak to us today to start tapping into the power of older people.


**If you are over 45, female (or male) and looking for work, take a look at the Federal Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency [].

Some other great recruitment agencies specialising in older workers are:

Also check out these organisations that are supporting female entrepreneurs of all ages to start their own businesses:



Photo by Aris Sfakianakis on Unsplash

The future of work, older workers and the gig economy

Forget the robots. The future of work is already here. Freelancer, Upwork, TaskRabbit, FlexJobs, AirTasker, Expert360 – these are just a few of the many digital freelance marketplaces that are powering the rapidly advancing ‘gig economy’ in Australia. Some companies are even developing their own freelance management systems.

And it’s not just younger workers driving this trend. It’s workers of all ages, life stages and levels who are looking for more flexibility and autonomy in their working lives. Research by Deloitte has shown that by 2020, 40 per cent of the workforce in the United States will be freelance and contingent – Australia’s is likely to be no different.

Considerations for managing older workers in the gig economy

To remain attractive to workers in the future, here’s a couple of considerations for managing older workers in this new world of work.

  • Decoupling age and experience from job descriptions and wage

For what appears to be the first time in the history of work, the gig economy (made up of independent contractors, contingent workers, freelancers, temp workers) presents older workers with a way to bypass the age biases and discrimination of conventional workplaces. Indeed, most digital freelance marketplaces are age-agnostic. They allow prospective workers to compete for a job based on the relevance of their skills and expertise to the project or task, no matter how old they are. Therefore, the chances of not being hired because of being “overqualified” or being perceived as “too old” to work are much diminished.

  • Getting serious about flexible working arrangements

Even if your company isn’t yet considering supplementing their workforce with gig workers, the growing desire to work flexibly is an increasing trend. Indeed, 85 percent of Australians consider traditional 9 to 5 office hours to be inflexible for both present and future workers – of all ages. Flexible work arrangements are particularly attractive to older workers who are often content to work part-time, and are not looking for career progression nor a huge salary. It’s also not uncommon for people 50+ to develop a portfolio career vs retaining a traditional 9 to 5 job.

Implications for training & talent management

  • Remaining competitive in the talent war

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, if organisations wish to recruit the best people for the job, the focus must be on concrete skills and expertise rather than people’s age or previous level of seniority. Consequently, age-objective hiring strategies are essential.

  • Retaining the best talent

We are reminded constantly that today’s workforce will need to engage in lifelong learning to keep their skills up-to-date and to remain relevant. Consequently, creating a culture of learning that supports and encourages people of all ages to engage with ongoing education ensures workforce skills remain relevant. This approach is also most likely to attract and retain talent. Workers are able to adapt and more easily evolve their careers in ways they may not have imagined possible.

Act now to stay ahead

A recent survey of 500 UK employers showed that as few as 20% are discussing strategies for managing older workers. Whilst a similar survey has not been conducted in Australia, our experience tells us that even fewer employers would be considering older workers in their strategic planning. Ultimately, the gig economy will force all organisations to restructure their workforces. It’s the organisations that act now that will pull ahead and reap the benefits of a more diverse workforce. The laggards will fall further behind.



If you’re looking for new ways to harness the older worker talent pool , call Three Sisters Group today.


Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

The Apple watch: Ageism – built-in

The new Apple watch has some cool features – thinner body, bigger screen, faster processor, a built-in electrocardiogram (EKG) for heart rate monitoring and a fall detection feature. Where’s the ageism? The fall detection feature. Why? Because for any Apple user over 65, it automatically switches on the fall detection feature when they start using their watch. Therefore, this assumes that everyone over 65 years old is frail, doddery and vulnerable to falls.

Avoiding ageism through universal design

Ageism is defined as discrimination against people on the basis of age; specifically, discrimination against, and prejudicial stereotyping of, older people” (Collins English Dictionary). It routinely occurs in workplaces and the broader community through discriminatory employment practices, lack of visibility in advertising, stereotypical portrayal of older people in the media, and in our language – e.g. “he/she is cute” or “he’s just a cranky old b****!”

As a result of the cultural pervasiveness of ageism, products and services rarely consider the needs and pain points of older people. Or, they’re designed based on age stereotypes. Universal design addresses this problem.

What is universal design?

The Centre for Universal Design Australia uses this definition from Canada:

“Design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference”.

However, according to the Research Institute for Consumer Affairs (RICA) in the U.K. (2016) there isn’t evidence of systematic inclusion of older people throughout the design process.

The #1 key to universal design

Essential to inclusive or universal (used interchangeably) design is understanding the customer or recipient of the product or service. The importance of this is recognised by many organisations, evidenced by the burgeoning dialogue on the concept of co-creation (a Google search provided 547 million results). The #1 key?

Customer insights.

In other words, understand the customers or users of the product – what are their needs, wants & pain points?

Beware: Ageism inhibits innovation

And when it comes to product or service co-creation and universal design for older people, beware of ageism and age stereotypes. These may be held by both the customer and/or internal staff. These stereotypes can inhibit truly better design. The opportunity is to design a car (not a faster horse), or a smart phone (not simply a better mobile phone).

“We’re always working with community members. They always come up with things that you would never think of.”

Rajna Ogrin, Senior Research Fellow at Bolton Clarke

With Australia’s population ageing, it’s essential that organisations include older people in their design processes. Moreover, as over 50% of the older age group are in rural and remote areas, it’s also important to consider the differences between rural, remote, and urban areas, as this short video with leading experts in the field affirms.

Contact us today to find out how your organisation can generate meaningful customer insights. Through our bespoke programs, we enable organisations to create, together with their customers, products and services that are unbound by ageism, age stereotypes and generational labelling.

If you’d like to find out the lessons we can learn from Apple when it comes to creating an age-inclusive workforce, read on here.

Photo by Tom The Photographer on Unsplash


Age inclusiveness: lessons from a gerontologist

Have you heard of a geriatrician?

Don’t be surprised if you haven’t. They are specialists that we discover when we’re older or when we have elderly parents or grandparents with a range of physical and/or cognitive health challenges. Geriatricians focus on the health of older people – they are like a specialist GP for the elderly. They often work collaboratively with other specialists and allied health workers for their patients’ wellbeing.

Introducing Glenda Powell OAM…

Glenda Powell was the first female geriatrician in Queensland, the first female president of the Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG), and in 2002 was recognised for her substantial contributions to work around ageing by being selected as a member of the Order of Australia.

I had the honour and privilege of interviewing Glenda Powell. Glenda is inspiring – as a woman and as an older person. She has been unafraid to break new ground and continues to make contributions in her field by doing medical legal work and sitting on tribunals.

Key takeaways

Key takeaways from my interview with Glenda that are relevant for us all are:

  1. Embrace age diversity. An equality attitude (i.e. no ageism) occurs in an interactive, intergenerational work environment.
  2. Collaborate. The unapologetically collaborative approach that spans all specialisations and allied health services in gerontology is what enables the effective total care of each elderly person.
  3. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Respect for older people and treating them as a person – regardless of how they look on the outside helps to create positive patient outcomes.
  4. Be open and seek new information. Discoveries are being made all the time that provide information for us all to have a better, healthier future. For example the role of exercise in keeping our brain healthy – unknown at the time Glenda started her gerontology career.
  5. Develop healthy ageing habits. People are becoming more aware of the lifestyle choices they can make to ensure an active and healthy ageing.

Interview Highlights

Some of the highlights of the interview* are below. Glenda’s insights are helpful for anyone interested in building more age-inclusive workplaces, business and marketing strategies.

CR: What have you noticed about the ageing population in the time that you’ve been involved?

GP: They’re almost becoming younger because I am in the ageing population myself…I think people are taking more notice, perhaps not soon enough, about the things that they can do themselves to ensure an active ageing. And if we’re blessed with no disease we can live happily for a long time and stay active.

And one of the greatest things that I have discovered through the Queensland Brain Institute is that exercise helps those little neurones in our brains sprout. I was always taught that neurones died and that was it. We had so many million in our brain and once they went, they went. Not so. So those of us who are interested in keeping our neurones going can think that as we’re exercising, those neurones are sprouting and we’re doing something towards our own active ageing.

CR: Eternal youth.

GP: Well, not quite, but almost…the most important thing is not to live long, but to live while we’re alive. And I think we must try and stay active both in mind and in body. And as I say if we’re blessed with no disease we can do that for much longer now.

CR: And do you think there’s been a change in philosophy and approach by geriatricians and how they work with older people?

GP: I think, to be quite honest I still have the same philosophy that I had 50 years ago. I think the philosophy has always been respect, and to not strive officiously to keep alive, but to keep comfortable and to keep active. I think we have always worked in the team, and I think that’s our benefit as geriatricians. We’re not a one man band. I couldn’t do what I did in geriatric medicine without the nurse, the physio, the social worker, all those other people.

So we are intergenerational, we’re interactive. For some of my young co-workers I could have been their grandmother, but we’re still equal.

CR: It just sounds like as a profession geriatrics has always been inclusive, and respectful, and holistic.

GP: I think we’ve always had that respect for the older person and treating them as a person. Just because we’re old doesn’t mean we stop being who we were when we were 20 years old. We’re the same person inside just with an older face with a lot more wrinkles.

CR: And what do you see for the future with regards to geriatric care?

GP: I think we will go from strength to strength. I think we will be the last bastion of the general physician. We’ll be the last profession that looks after the total person because there’s a lot of sub specialisation in medicine now. I mean one person can go to the kidney clinic, and to this clinic, and the heart clinic, and the lunch clinic. We look after the whole, but we do bring in consultants in special areas when we feel we need to.


*Note: The above interview was conducted at the Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG) Conference in 2017. This was one of numerous interviews undertaken that encompassed everything from housing to rural communities and employment. Three Sisters Group would like to thank Glenda Powell OAM for participating and the AAG for their support.


Call Dr Catherine Rickwood today to start a conversation about how your organisation can harness the benefits of an age-inclusive workplace and business strategy. We work with marketing and human resource teams that incorporate a diversity & inclusion and customer experience philosophy to create products, services, processes, and programs that are more inclusive of older people.

To learn more, visit the Three Sisters Group website or connect with us via LinkedIn or Twitter.