It's time to harness the talents of Australia’s older female workforce
23 May 2013

Diversity Council Australia research released today found that older women (defined as 45 years plus) represent a sizeable and growing segment of the labour force but Australian organisations are failing to fully harness their skills and talents. Furthermore, Australia’s performance in this area lags substantially behind comparable countries, such as New Zealand.

The research, Older Women Matter: Harnessing the Talents of Australia’s Older Female Workforce, produced in partnership with the Australian Human Rights Commission with Sageco, investigates how underutilised older women at work really are and what employers can do to address this.  It found:

  • Older women now constitute 17% of Australia’s workforce with 45% of women aged 45 and over now in the labour force compared to less than a quarter (24%) in 1978.
  • Older women’s participation in the labour market is substantially lower than men’s in all age groups − as much as 17 points lower for women aged 55-64. The underemployment rate for women aged 45 and over is 6.5% compared to 4.7% for men of the same age.
  • The most recent comparable data shows participation rates for Australian women aged 55-64 of 54.9% compared to 72% in Sweden, 69.8% in New Zealand, 59.5% in the US and 57.4% in Canada. Iceland, Norway, Estonia, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and Finland also all have greater participation of this group of women. If Australia had the same participation of people aged 55+ as New Zealand, GDP in 2012 would have been 4% higher.
  • Employers can reap significant benefits if they review their attraction, retention, transition and flexible working strategies with older women in mind. DCA recommends seven key actions employers can take.

Nareen Young, DCA’s CEO said the research outlines a strong business case for harnessing older female talent.

“Despite growing government and private sector attention on the employment challenges and opportunities presented by ‘older workers’ or ‘women’, we have yet to see concerted attention directed to both. The benefits that could accrue to organisations that do this – such as improved retention, performance, innovation and market share as well as lowered legal and reputational risks – represent a huge opportunity. In addition, the benefits for the wider economy and to older women themselves makes this a very compelling case.

“Australia’s future workforce will depend heavily on the employment of older women so this is not about special treatment for another group. Organisations focusing on older women’s employment are future-proofing their workforce and positioning their organisation for success,” said Ms Young. 

The Hon Susan Ryan AO, Age Discrimination Commissioner said Australia is ignoring this huge pool of talent and experience.

“This is a terrible waste of human capital that undermines the national imperative of growing the economy and results in significant loss to businesses. It also impacts the financial, emotional and physical wellbeing of the many women who are consigned to unwanted early retirement,” said Commissioner Ryan.

Alison Monroe, Managing Director, Sageco said organisations should take advantage of the report findings to make change.

“It is our hope that organisations will take this document to heart and take action; those that heed the research and use the framework only stand to benefit from recruiting and retaining older women within their workforce,” said Ms Monroe.

About the research:

DCA reviewed recent academic and industry research, including DCA survey data, to identify the current situation for older women in employment and develop practical evidence-based guidance to assist organisations to better harness the talents of Australia’s older female workforce. We then tested the preliminary findings with a Think Tank of leading diversity practitioners and through an on-line survey of individual older women.

For an executive summary of the report, click here. DCA members can access a copy of the full report here (members will need to log in).

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