Breaking the Second Glass Ceiling: Women in UK Call for Action to Support Older Women in Workforce

By: GWL Team | Thursday, 6 July 2023

In the UK, many women are calling on politicians and business executives to take measures to support older women's continued productivity in the workplace. According to a recent study, three-fifths of the surveyed women said that they would be hesitant to discuss health and well-being issues with a male manager, and more than half of these women feel awkward talking about menopause with their employers.

These findings are part of the BSI report titled "Lifting the Second Glass Ceiling," which examines why women leave the workforce early for reasons other than personal choice. The study indicates that 75 percent of women in the UK want employers to implement measures to retain older women in the workforce, while 71 percent believe that political intervention is necessary.

The report by BSI, a business improvement and standards company, highlights that 29percent of UK women expect to leave work before retirement, with 42percent attributing this decision to health or well-being concerns, and an additional fifth specifically mentioning menopause. This trend of early retirement, observed among both older women and their male colleagues, signifies the need for a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture of care.

Anne Hayes, Director of Sectors at BSI, emphasizes the benefits of addressing the Second Glass Ceiling (SGC), stating that it can enhance productivity, talent retention, and mentorship opportunities for newer staff members. The research findings underscore the multiple factors that prevent women from remaining in the workforce but also highlight clear strategies to address these issues. Supporting menopausal workers, implementing flexible working arrangements, and breaking down societal stigmas are key steps toward creating an enhanced work environment for all.

According to the report, more than two-thirds of UK women believe that experienced female mentors can greatly contribute to the development of younger women. However, less than half of them have had the opportunity to learn from such mentors themselves. Furthermore, it remains uncommon to see women in leadership positions, as noted by one-third of the respondents. Increasing the number of female leaders could prove crucial in overcoming a significant barrier to women's sustained employment in the UK.

In May, BSI published the "Menstruation, menstrual health, and Menopause in the Workplace" standard (BS 30416), providing practical recommendations for workplace adjustments and the appointment of workplace menstruation and menopause advocates. The majority of UK women (74 percent) believe that employers should play a role in supporting women through issues related to menopause, and 76 percent would welcome greater flexibility to manage associated challenges. However, only four percent of women are aware of formal policies within their organizations to address these issues.

Kate Field, Global Head of Health, Safety, and Well-being at BSI, emphasizes the opportunity for organizations to collaborate with their employees to build diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace cultures. Such efforts can result in engaged, committed, and productive workforces. Field points out that organizations need to prioritize individual needs, including physical, psychological, and fulfilment requirements, as outlined by BSI's Prioritizing People Model.

Barriers to remaining in the workforce mentioned by the respondents include caring responsibilities (21 percent), lack of flexibility (18 percent), limited progression opportunities for women (11 percent), and pay parity gaps (12 percent).

Interestingly, younger women (65percent of those aged 25-34) express greater optimism about overcoming the Second Glass Ceiling, believing that their generation will receive the necessary flexibility and support to remain in the workforce alongside their male counterparts. They also express confidence that the next generation will have the support needed for long-term productivity.

The report concludes with a series of recommendations to lift the Second Glass Ceiling, including recognizing the benefits of doing so, initiating open dialogue with women to uncover solutions, ensuring accessible support for menopausal and other considerations, embracing flexibility as an asset, fostering a broader culture of care, and promoting best practices through collaboration across organizations, sectors, and countries.

BSI's research on creating an age-inclusive workforce and their Prioritizing People model further underpin their commitment to advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those related to gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and reduced inequalities.

The call for action from UK women to support older women in the workforce highlights the importance of addressing challenges such as menopause and providing supportive workplace environments. By implementing strategies to retain experienced women, organizations can tap into a wealth of talent, foster mentorship opportunities, and contribute to a more inclusive and sustainable future.