Gillian Arnold FBCS
President – BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT
Recent work from the Office for National Statistics suggests that some over-50s may be looking for a change, and some to retire, but that others feel unsupported or stressed within the workplace.
A few months before my 50th birthday, I sat in the audience at an event for women in technology. The woman keynote speaker said: “If someone had told me when I was 40 that from the ages of 50 through 70, I would have a whole new career as the leader of my own company, I would never have believed them.” I don’t remember much else of what she said because, with one sentence, she had completely inspired me; and I was instantly at work, planning.
Motivation to refresh technology career
At the time, I was deliberating on whether to retire early due to changes in my company’s employee pension scheme. I was looking for a change but didn’t want it to be retirement. I wanted my working life to end with a bang, not a whimper; and she had given me true hope that there was something more in the working world for me.
The acceptance of older workers needs to be embedded in the company culture.
STEM opportunities don’t end at 20
Shifting company mindsets to help the whole team understand that STEM or tech work can be as exciting at 50 as it can be at 20 is an important first stage. When the company initiates projects like this, the whole workforce begins to understand that there is true value in the older working woman.
She might have caring responsibilities or might be dealing with menopause issues, but she sure will have plenty more to give in return for an interesting and stimulating working life.
Initiatives on recruiting without age bias both internally and externally are important. However, if we don’t lose women in the first place and put more effort into the difficult tasks around retention, we will have much greater success.
Engage workplaces in supporting older employees
Workplaces must ensure equal opportunity, unbiased appraisal systems and support women with caring responsibilities — or they can simply dispel some of the workplace stereotypes that depict the older worker as disinterested, a slow learner or even finished in the workforce.
I was also inspired by colleagues I worked with at IBM who, in their late 50s and 60s, learned new technologies. But the acceptance of older workers needs to be embedded in the company culture. So, let’s turn things around for those who want to stay active until their 70s — technology is too exciting to walk away now.