I recently read an article from Barbara Hanna Grufferman, author of The Best of Everything After 50 and it got me thinking. The post had to do with what women over the age of 50 are fear most and why. Kind of hit home for me. And no, not the ‘50’ part. The ‘fear most’ part.
Grufferman did an informal survey on Facebook asking her women friends to reveal the one thing that keeps them awake at night, the one thing that has the potential to overshadow their outlook on life.
You might think the women were concerned about getting older, getting wrinkles, and getting replaced by a younger model. Surprisingly, in spite of all the media surrounding the importance of youth in our culture, none of the women brought those issues up. What’s on their minds is not the fear of getting wrinkly or getting sick, it’s the fear of not having enough money as they get older.
Of course, this anxiety is not just held by women over 50. The Wall Street Journal reported that “at an age when they should be generating peak incomes and savings, many unemployed and underemployed Americans are applying for early Social Security benefits and spending what’s left in their retirement accounts.”
Those of us who are fortunate enough to still be working, could be working into our 70s because we didn’t – or couldn’t – save enough to retire. And women seem to be in the most shaky position as we get older. It’s well known that men tend to be more financially secure, make more money and have bigger pensions. What doesn’t help is the fact women are not regaining the jobs they lost in the recession as fast as men are. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that of the 1.3 million jobs created in 2010, about 90 percent of them went to men. Women gained only 149,000 jobs. Yuck.
As unemployed women look for work, cultural and other unconscious biases can throw a wrench in their search. Yes, we have antidiscrimination laws, but we also know there are employers out there who secretly believe that males put in longer hours or are more dedicated to their jobs simply because they cannot give birth.
So, you ask, what should we do? Well, we should stop ageism, create more jobs, provide access to affordable healthcare and stop job discrimination for everybody, not just women. But, that’s going to take some serious paradigm shifting and politicking in America, isn’t it.
We can, as HR professionals however, contribute to our organizations in a way that will start the ball rolling. Given the realities the boomers are aging, people are retiring, and our intellectual capital may be passing on or walking out the door, we as HR strategists must have plans in place to help our businesses and employees cope with these changes…and sometimes even take advantage of them.
Here is what I would do:
- Institute wellness programs to help employees stay healthy. Not only will it help to reduce benefits costs, but it will also contribute to the reduction of the #1 financial risk we all have as we age. Give employees a financial incentive to participate. That extra $10 or $25 in a paycheck could go a long way.
- Encourage employees to stay current with their skills. Yes, we know younger people tend to be more technically savvy, but all employees should have a baseline in the use of technology. Biologically, older workers may take longer to learn, but given the opportunity, they will end up just as skilled as their younger counterparts. Up-to-date skills maintain employability from both perspectives, employer and employee alike. There is an enormous amount of free training offered through state workforce boards – and some of those workforce boards have grant money you can take advantage of to help fund other training, too.
- Educate workers on the need for saving. Communicate and show them how to participate in the retirement plans you have in place. There’s no such thing as a sure thing anymore in terms of retirement. Pensions are going out the window; 401k’s and other savings vehicles are the norm. There’s a great article coming out in the Winter issue of HR Florida Review (mid February) that shares some ideas on how to stress to employees the importance of using savings plans.
- Examine how jobs are created and defined in your organization. Are there opportunities to redesign them to be more flexible? Are there opportunities for job sharing, so more than one person can be employed without additional costs to the company? Can some jobs work well for telecommuting? Can other jobs be designed to entice the “nontraditional worker?”
- Be aware of bias lurking in the corners of all your HR policies, processes, and programs. Do you automatically toss out a resume because the person has an unusual or a feminine name? Do you ignore the applications that indicate a person has been unemployed for several months? Take a look at your HR programs and see if there are ways to make changes that allow for a much more level playing field. For example, develop evaluation tools that keep interviewers focused on relevant criteria. Highlight the importance of diversity and inclusion in job descriptions. Incorporate self-reflection and emotional intelligence in leadership development. Ensure pay scales reflect knowledge, skills, ability and other objective criteria, etc, without regard to gender.
I know we HR pros can’t solve America’s or women’s problems in a day, a week, a year, whatever. But we can be business partners that reflect doing what are the right things to do. One person or program at a time.
Aside from being the 2011-2012 President of the HR Florida State Council, Heather E. Vogel, MHR, SPHR consults and speaks professionally with local and national Fortune 100 and 500 companies on human resources and organization development. As the HR Whisperer [hrwhisperer.com], she focuses on human behavior and its impact on the workplace to rehabilitate organizations by developing talent. Heather has 20+ years of leadership experience across corporate and nonprofits alike – so she gets HR/OD from both sides of the financial equation.
Right on Heather!
As a 66 year old woman I am working very hard to keep my business practice alive – and hope to make it thrive – because of the very fear you cited! Years of discrimination against women cannot be erased over night. And just when women were making good strides, the economy dipped. Although women are achieving greater in many professions and the number of women and men in the labor force has nearly equalized in recent years, in a 2011 government study, it was reported that women still earned only 75 percent of what their male counterparts earned for women 45 to 54 years old.
Women live longer than men – but their ability to put away a significant amount of money whether in a 401(k) or in social security remains much lower. More women work part-time; women tend to be segregated in lower paying occupations, and men dominate boardrooms. According to a Catalyst study, white women hold 13 percent of Board positions at Fortune 500 companies; minotiry women hold 3 percent. Caucasian men old nearly 77 percent!
The glass ceiling may have been cracked – but it still has not been broken.