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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 [https://www.wgea.gov.au/].

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

3 steps to create an age-friendly Future of Work

When we hear “The Future of Work”, we generally think of a high-tech world crowded by robots and powered by AI. Perhaps. But this sort of thinking ignores some of the wider trends happening around us in the world of work, including longer lives.

By 2056, the 2015 Intergenerational Report projects life expectancy at birth to be 95.1 years for men and 96.6 years for women. Compared with 91.5 and 93.6 years today. What does this mean for the workplace? Equally, what are the implications for planning our working lives?

Longer lives & today’s workplace

Much has been written about the challenges for older people to gain and retain employment in today’s workplace. And whilst there are organisations embracing the older worker, by and large, employment past 60 or 65 becomes increasingly difficult.

“If ageism is rampant anywhere, it’s in the corporate world. We know that it’s very difficult for older people to get another job if they’ve lost their job in their 50s and 60s…It’s extremely difficult for them to find retraining that is meaningful, to engage in a new industry…That’s where the corporate world really has to be more accountable. We’ve done it with gender…”

Helen Barrie*

Longer lives & HR

Our longer working lives require HR leaders to re-imagine and re-create ways of working that are sustainable for employees in the long term. The challenge is that there are no existing models for doing this. Why? Because lives are longer today than at any other time in history.  Consequently, HR leaders have an opportunity to work creatively with employees to discover and implement new ways of working.

For example, the new world of work  could involve:

  • People not starting full-time work until age 40 to allow more time to educate and care for young children;
  • Age-inclusive recruitment and training policies and procedures that seek to hire and keep people in their 60s and beyond;
  • Creating an environment that enables job-sharing, including intergenerational job sharing;
  • Flexible work practices that facilitate and encourage people to take sabbaticals or gap years from time to time – at all ages and stages of life;
  • Training and education leave or benefits to encourage lifelong learning. It’s predicted that we’ll have up to 17 employers and 5 careers on top of constant workplace technological change and disruption in our lifetime.

An age friendly Future of Work

Ultimately, the research shows that all workers, regardless of age, are all looking for the same things in their careers: flexibility, autonomy, respect and recognition, and having purpose. With this in mind, here are 3 steps your HR team can take now to create sustainable and age-friendly work practices for workers of all ages:

1. Increase flexibility

Acknowledge that everyone needs time out for rest, leisure, looking after their health and caring for their loved ones. One Australian company has gone as far as introducing unlimited paid leave to great acclaim.

2. Adopt ‘agile’ HR practices

HR teams will need to rely on the four key tenets of agile: responsiveness to employee needs through efficient feedback systems; experimentation with new models, policies and practices; validated learning through minimum viable policies and practices followed by iterations; and, finally, trust and collaboration with line managers and teams. You can see more on agile HR here.

3. Commit to cultural change

Develop a culture amongst the leadership team, employees, suppliers, partners, and customers that embraces the contributions of workers across all ages, including valuing a supportive multigenerational work environment. Beyond the tremendous positive effects this will have on worker morale and productivity, such a culture will facilitate the development of innovative products and services that meet the needs of 21st Century demographic realities.

Dr Catherine Rickwood stated in her recent Canberra TEDx talk:

“Longer lives are a gift we’ve  all been given. Regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality or ability. Age spans all diversity and inclusion issues.”

An age-friendly workplace will create the foundations for an inclusive, cohesive, and productive workforce for decades to come.

 

Three Sisters Group is committed to changing the cultural conversation about becoming older. We specialize in working with organisations to develop age-inclusive business strategies – across both HR and marketing, including product design and development. To learn more, visit our website or connect with us via LinkedIn or Twitter. Or speak with us today.

 

 

*Helen Barrie is Research Fellow & Deputy Director, Hugo Centre for Migration and Population Research, University of Adelaide

Photo credit: iStock