Womenomics: Why Equality and Diversity Matters in Civic Society

Last year I completed an Independent Review, commissioned by the UK Government Scotland Office, which examined the “Role and Contribution of Women to the Scottish Economy”. The subtitle of the Review was ”Womenomics”, a term coined in Japan to help a very male dominated culture and society recognise the economic contribution that greater participation by women in civic society and business could achieve.

Given the recent decision by Muirfield Golf Club members to continue to exclude 52% of the population from its membership, sadly it seems that within Scotland we also still have work to do to convince a minority of people of the value and economic benefit that a more diverse and equal society can deliver.

This decision, as it stands, will mean that the British Open, one of the most iconic and prestigious golf tournaments in the world, will not return to a venue just twenty-one miles outside Edinburgh, our Capital City. The loss of this event to the Scottish economy is estimated to be in the region of £100m, the impact on our international reputation and national brand as a welcoming and caring nation is immeasurable.

Major sporting events are a key economic driver for Scotland and our reputation on the world stage has been hard earned through significant public and private sector investment in infrastructure, facilities, marketing and promotion. The 2015 Open Championship in St Andrews delivered £140 million of economic benefit to Scotland – the largest amount ever achieved by a golf event in the United Kingdom or Ireland, according to an independent economic impact assessment, commissioned by golf’s governing body the R&A.

In Scotland, we host the Open more times than any other part of the UK. It brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to this country and generates significant business for hotels, restaurants, local businesses and the wider Scottish economy. But most importantly, it supports valuable and much needed jobs in tourism, hospitality and retail. All sectors dominated by female workers. This decision by a small group of private club members potentially has ramifications for many women beyond the Clubhouse or course. It can be reversed and like many, I hope that it is. If not on social and moral grounds, then surely in terms of its economic and business impact.

In July this year, the Ayrshire town of Troon will host the 145th Open. The Royal Troon Golf Club is also currently consulting its members on whether to end its “men-only” membership policy. Its Captain has already stated “it is important that the club, much like the wider game, reflects the modern society in which we exist”

Let’s all hope Royal Troon members better understand the concept of “Womenomics” and why equalities and diversity matters in our civic society.

Dr Lesley Sawers

Executive Chair


Blog Image Ageing

Women and Ageism: Economic Illusion or Fact

You may have never heard of the term “Frequency Illusion” but now that I’ve mentioned it chances are that you will hear it again some time very soon. “Frequency Illusion” is the phenomenon where you hear a piece of news or information or see something and very soon afterwards encounter the same object or information again, often repeatedly.

Since turning 50 some years ago and heading all too fast towards the next significant birthday, I seem to be confronted on an almost daily basis with facts and stories about ageing women. It’s everywhere – on the news, in magazines, on the web at home and at work. I don’t think it’s an illusion, I do believe there has been an increase in the frequency and volume of information on the issues facing women in the third age that reflects the increasing focus of society, the media, politicians and from women ourselves on ageing and its impact on our careers, family life and future work and earning prospects.

Since 2000, the proportion of people aged 50-64 in work has grown from 61% to 66% in 2014.The employment rate for people over 65 has similarly risen from 8% to over 14%. This older working group however contains a lot of disparity linked to age, occupation and education and there are significant challenges experienced by many women in this age group. Within the UK, three in five female employees (aged 50+) work in three sectors characterised by low paid jobs; education, health and retail. All sectors that are predicted to shrink in employment numbers. In a recent Radio 5 survey into ageism, one in five adults said they had experience ageism, 32% of them in the workplace. Worryingly in this survey, Scotland had the second highest incidence of ageism in the workplace, just behind Wales.

And whilst employment rates amongst the 50+ age group are rising, across the UK there are over 3 million unemployed people aged 50-64 who are actively seeking work. Approximately 1 million of these people have been made “involuntary workless” or as Business in the Community describes it “pushed out of their jobs” for reasons of redundancy, ill health or early retirement. What this essentially means, is that there are millions of people over 50 who would like to work but can’t find a job. Within my own circle of 50+ friends and colleagues, this seems a particularly serious issue for many women, who may also have experienced divorce or single parenthood and now find themselves the sole household earner and faced with very real challenges in re-entering or remaining in work.

A number of experts are also highlighting the potential challenge facing many women in this older age group in seeking work, as their jobs and skills do not match those sectors predicted to grow. Older women on average have lower levels of formal qualifications and are less likely to engage in training, either through not working in sectors that have invested heavily in workforce development or having missed earlier career development opportunities due to a whole host of reasons linked to caring responsibilities or extended periods not in paid employment. A recent study across the OECD highlighted the fact that women do more unpaid work than men, many choosing to combine work with family responsibilities, something we all know, but interestingly what this study also demonstrated was this comes with a cost to many women’s long term career and earning prospects. The effect of the boomerang generation is also adversely impacting many women, with over three million older women within the UK having adult children still living at home.

In Scotland, the proportion of older women (50+) has been rising steadily since 2004, from 24% to 28% in 2011. Many of these older women are likely to earn less than older men, on average 20% less, and to have more responsibility for caring for elderly relatives or grandchildren. This trend is likely to continue as more and more of us baby-boomers and Generation Jones’s (that’s anyone born up to the mid 1960’s) become a larger proportion of the ageing workforce.

The recent increase in retirement age has also impacted many working women, the STUC have identified that many women in the 50-64 age group are less likely to be eligible for full state pensions or to have access to an occupational pension, often having either restricted access to schemes or breaks in contributions due to childcare. Figures show that women have on average £32k in defined pension schemes as opposed to £62k+ for men. Analysis of single women households suggests that this age group may also be negatively impacted by a changing welfare system that has a focus on family units as opposed to individuals.

So for many women in Scotland ageing is not an economic illusion.

It would be hard reading this data and statistics, not to feel a little depressed at the potentially very bleak future for many women. But there is a positive side. With this increase in focus on ageing in society and in the workplace, there has also been a growing recognition of the need to specifically look at third age work requirements, particularly for women.

A report last year by the UK Government into older people, recognised the need for a national focus on retaining, retraining and recruiting workers over 50 and it identified a whole package of policy measures to support flexible working, training needs and to protect earnings.

There are also a growing number of women like myself, now choosing self-employment as a career option, 10% of women in Scotland aged 50-64 are now self-employed. Many cite greater flexibility and overcoming challenges of age discrimination as their reasons for entrepreneurship. The majority of new businesses in the UK are created by people in their 40s and 50s, the evidence shows that these “olderpreneurs” have a 70% chance of survival compared to 28% for younger people. Little research exists into the female “olderpreneur” and the contribution this group could make to the economy, but we know that in Scotland if woman started businesses at the same rate as men, this would add an additional 5% to GDP or the equivalent of an extra £7.6 billion to the national economy. So the opportunity for policy makers and government to develop a package of targeted support measures and incentives to support female “oldpreneurs” is there.

Similarly, both the Scottish Commission into Older Women and Business in the Community have also identified a range of practical measures that would support more women to remain in meaningful and rewarding work or to develop new third age careers, these include a greater emphasis on training, agile or flexible working, carer support and pay gap transparency.

I hope in the future we will see greater and faster progress on a range of government and business measures specifically focused at addressing gender ageism at work and in society. As someone very wise once said, “all problems are an illusion of the mind”, ageing and gender is definitely one “frequency illusion” that we can solve.

Dr Lesley Sawers

Executive Chair



Closing the Gap and Achieving Equality

In the mid 1980’s I undertook a PhD study that examined the role and impact of technology on the retail sector. Difficult to imagine now, but for those of us old enough to remember, that was in the early days of bar codes and the use of scanning systems at checkouts. PC’s worked on DOS and iPads, macs and iPhones were still a vision waiting to become reality. Mobile phones didn’t exist and online shopping wasn’t even dreamt of.

My work examined how skills and employment patterns of female workers could be impacted within the UK supermarket sector. It tested the hypothesis that the growth of technology could lead to upskilling, greater job satisfaction, higher earnings and enhanced career opportunities for women. My belief was that technology would also improve productivity and business performance and enhance the customer experience. A win-win-win scenario for women, technology and business.

Fast forward thirty years, today technology has advanced beyond even what leading futurologists where predicting at that time. Service and retail employment has continued to grow, business performance and management information and reporting systems have improved, technology is now embedded in not only how we do business and how we shop but also in how we interact and communicate with each other. The speed and growth of technology and its application has been phenomenal.

Last year, I undertook an independent Review  into the “Role and Contribution of Women to the Scottish Economy” and revisited many of my earlier predictions. The evidence was staggering. The benefits and advancements that seemed so obvious had not manifested themselves in improvements in earnings, increased skills or enhanced career opportunities for many working women, particularly those working in the retail and service sectors. A sector that still remains dominated by low pay, low skills, part time working and a lack of women in management and senior roles. But even more disappointing was the fact that women across many other industry sectors, including those in self-employment, have faired equally badly in this period and have not achieved the career and earnings benefits predicted to accompany technology growth.

Specifically, looking at data from the mid 1990’s, the gap between men’s and women’s earnings has remained relatively consistent at around £100 (ONS 2015) and the Fawcett Society estimate that women still make up the majority of those in low paid work, 63% of people earning £7 per hour or less. Evidence also shows that for every £1 a man takes home, a woman takes home 85p, this equates to women working for free for two months of the year compared to a man. This gap in earnings becomes even more pronounced when women have children and get older. Within Scotland, the gender pay gap averages at 17% but can be as high as 40% in the Legal and Professional Services sector and 23% in the Construction industry.

And gender also impacts those in self-employment. In terms of business start-ups, if women set up businesses in Scotland as the same rate as men this would add £13 billion to the Scottish economy or the equivalent of over 100,000 new businesses.

The reasons for these gaps include a heady cocktail of social, economic and cultural factors including; flexible working, access to affordable child care, educational and skills levels, the size of companies where many women work and access to finance for many female business start-ups.

Closing the pay gap will go some way to addressing the structural inequalities that many women face in the workplace. Under new Pay Gap legislation announced by the UK Government in February 2016, companies and voluntary organisations with over 250 employees (approximately 8,000 across the UK) will now be required to publish pay gap information on their web sites, showing the number of men and women in each pay range.

But to achieve full workplace equality and to ensure women compete on an even playing field in the workplace we need to also take action to ensure we broaden the skills base and career choices particularly for younger women, encourage and support the introduction of flexible working policies and the equal sharing of family responsibilities. In addition, we need to recognise and value the contribution of women’s work to the economy, home and society.

Today, more than at any other point over this thirty-year period I feel optimistic about the future for generations of women. Driven by a change in attitudes, cultures and behaviours and supported by legislative and policy measures as a society we now recognise that we need to address many deep rooted barriers that impact women in education, at work, in the home and running their own businesses. Do I think the next thirty years will see progress on all these fronts and the fair sharing of the benefits that technology can bring, absolutely. Do I think women of all ages, all skill levels, across all sectors and in every region of the UK will finally work, live, and contribute to a fairer and equal society? A resounding yes. But it will need a continued focus and drive from us all to achieve it.

Dr Lesley Sawers

Executive Chair