October 11, 2011

AUSTRALIA: Working 9-to-5 not easy for older women

MELBOURNE, Victoria / The Age / Executive Style / Management / October 11, 2011

 By Michelle Griffin

She's one of those hard-working older Australians that Julia Gillard admires, but Sue Oliver doesn't see her age as an asset. Quietly seeking another job to replace her current public service position, Ms Oliver, 59, wonders how young she can pretend to be. That's why she's doing this interview under her maiden name, not the married name she's used for more than three decades.

''I'm ready to move on, but it's not easy at this age,'' she said. ''People take one look at your age and write you off. But I intend to keep working for at least another decade.''

Older women are often phased out of employment before they're ready, or financially able, according to Sidelined!, a new report from the Brotherhood of St Laurence. The report follows analysis of baby boomers in the workplace by the Brotherhood which shows that more than half of baby boomer women are either not working or only working part-time.

Interviews with Victorian baby boomers revealed that they struggled to find and keep work. Researchers Dina Bowman and Helen Kimberley found that many of the so-called lucky generation were regularly dismissed, ignored or belittled when looking for even the most basic of jobs. Older women who spent a decade or more raising families were especially vulnerable.

''This age group started working at a time when training was on-the-job,'' said Dr Kimberley. ''If you stayed with the same employer, you could have quite a good career, but if you were made redundant or left the workforce for a while, when you tried to get back in, it was difficult.''

One of the case studies, Carol, 59, worked as a secretary for many years before she started a family in the early 1980s. That meant she lacked basic computer skills when she wanted to work at the end of that decade, leading to a series of low-paying casual jobs as a carer, a cook and now a sandwich hand.

''I wouldn't advise women to give up their job for having kids,'' Carol told the researchers.

Many of the unemployed boomers interviewed were the invisible unemployed, Dr Kimberley said, as they were either married to someone employed or had more than $2500 in savings - a meagre sum for rainy days.

These hidden unemployed and underemployed older Australians could not take advantage of the federal government's mature-age employment incentives, she said, which were aimed at those on Centrelink benefits.

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