Around the world, we need a more ambitious and holistic women’s political agenda. An approach that incorporates all phases and roles of women’s lives – and recognizes the growing ranks and particular challenges of older women. It means accepting the interdependencies between three issues, usually treated separately – careers, care and pensions.
Careers (the opportunity after 50)
Rather than today’s career sprints to fame, fortune or status before age 50, tomorrow’s careers will be multiple, fragmented and layered over six decades. In the past, the handful of years in their 30s when most women have children has been seen as a huge (and costly) obstacle to their rise. As careers lengthen, the time spent with children decreases proportionately. the after 50 decades can become women’s peak career/impact years where they are newly energized with empty nests and better health. The Covid pandemic has forced women out of work in droves to care for children expelled from schools. This short-term anomaly should not mask the greatest opportunity that longer lives present to women: an entirely new career model with a longer track.
The traditional career cards, designed by and for men in the 1920sand century, emphasized a rapid and unbroken ascent, accelerating in the 1930s, peaking in the 1940s and 1950s, and decelerating in the 1960s. Companies are still largely embracing this arc and are all too ready to pushing people past 50, labeled as overkill and overpriced. Yet in rapidly aging societies and talent-strapped businesses, older people may be the solution. “Older people want to improve their skills and continue to work,” says Helen Hirsch Spence of Top sixty out of sixty, “they are a ready-made solution to many of our talent shortages.” Retaining and leveraging skilled, networked and experienced employees will require new policies, career paths and mindsets. It’s time to quit your career from ladders to trellises – where flexibility will be defined not just by where and when you work in a given week, but over a lifetime.
Covid didn’t create the need for flexibility at work – women did. Over the past 50 years, women have pushed for greater flexibility, working from home, and on-demand economy options. The pandemic has opened Pandora’s box. Now, those ideas have been unleashed on the general population – and everyone from millennials to perennials are embracing the result.
· Stop trying to force women to fit outdated and inflexible career standards. Tailor the workplace to their lifecycles to tap into a pool of high-performing, loyal talent.
· Stop firing or ignoring women over 50, promote them and hire them instead. “They are not finished yetsays Bonnie Marcus. They ask for more. Are you listening?
Caring (and being cared for)
Women still do most care for everyone – children, partners and parents – sometimes all at the same time. Ensuring that they are taken care of in turn is more of a challenge. Health care ignores too many gender differences and a perverse preference for research on male rats, while elderly care is undervalued, underpaid and therefore understaffed. By the time a woman’s parents and (usually slightly older) partner have died and she ceases to care for others, most are often elderly themselves – and alone. They are therefore more likely to end up in retirement homes, where 72% of residents are women (70% in the UK). If they are lucky they have a girl who will visit them, like 75% of caregivers are also women.
The pandemic has hit nursing homes around the world particularly hard, which means it has hit women the hardest. Residents and staff in the care economy are predominantly female and died in horrible numbers over the past two years. Long-term care facilities accounted for at least 23% of the 200,000 dead due to Covid in the US, and that doesn’t even include assisted living data. While much media has focused on women’s career setbacks during Covid, less has focused on gender hit at the upper end of the life cycle. How can we do better with our mothers – and then with ourselves?
· Prioritize care as a powerful economic and employment driver, from birth to death. Like Anne-Marie Slaughter writing “Care can provide a way out of our current environmental and spiritual crises, a bridge to a new economy, and a deeper understanding of our own humanity.”
· The majority of 1 billion people aged 60 and over are women. It’s a huge market, ready to double by 2050. There is huge unmet demand for new innovations and thinking that addresses what MIT AgeLab Director Joe Coughlin calls not just women “Needs but their wanna as well.”
Pensions (global inequality)
In all OECD countries, it is better to age as a man says than a woman a report published in The Lancet. The combination of the above problems – non-linear career models, more time spent caring for children and the elderly – results in the final knockout blow. In old age, too many women are broke. The global pension deficit means that women receive on average 27% less annual pension than men and, in some countries, 50% less. Due to the convoluted complexity of the subject, combined with a widespread fear of aging, not much is known about it. And get young people in debt to care about the impact of compound interest on their later years is an almost impossible task.
Pensions, like careers, were designed by men for men. They were designed to reward an individual, based on their earning capacity – not families with two jobs and children. The women were just an add-on, and it shows in the actuarial calculations. ‘Pensions reflect earnings,’ says Baroness Ros Altmann, a British peer and pensions expert, “and now the responsibility for retirement savings has shifted from the state to the individual”. This is never good news for women. “When women are on maternity leave, companies don’t have to contribute to their pension,” notes Altmann. And when couples divorce late in life, as the rising rate of money divorces suggest that they are increasingly doing so, “many women don’t even know they can have pension rights – and therefore don’t get them.”
There is no perfect retirement system in the world, admits David Knox, partner at Mercer Australia. But at least Australia’s mandatory pension system accompanies you from job to job and company to company. The country’s “retired” pension funds are solvent, more so than you can tell for most continental European pay-as-you-go systems that depend on the next generation paying the current generation’s pension – a mathematical impossibility counts given the declining ratios of young people to their elders. Australia also pays parents’ pensions for the first year of a child’s life, recognizing ‘the benefit to the community of the next generation of taxpayers in times of population decline’ – and perhaps encouraging a few more to have them as birth from Australia the rate drops to records.
“Start by addressing the gender pay gap,” says Yvonne Sonsino, Mercer’s Global Co-Head Next step. “Pensions are linked to salary, so it’s an obvious step. Companies that close gender pay gaps are also fairer when it comes to career advancement – and both have an impact on pensions. »
· Redesign sustainable pension systems for working families with two incomes rather than for single people.
· Encourage having children if you want more sustainable birth rates. Adopt family-friendly pension contributions that recognize the benefits countries derive from babies.
More gender-balanced governance helps drive more innovative policies around this range of issues. “When the number of women reaches a critical mass,” observes UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “governments are more likely to innovate and challenge established orthodoxies. In other words, women in politics are redefining and redistributing power. It is no coincidence that governments redefining GDP to include well-being and sustainability are led by women.
Pay and promote women at all ages – and fund their pensions properly. They take care of you. Will you take care of them?