Here’s a social experiment for you: go into a supermarket – any supermarket will do. Now, walk along the row of checkouts and observe how many of the till operators are male and how many are female? Roughly equal numbers? Good. Now walk back along the row and ask yourself how many of the till operators appear to be over 50? Of the women, you’d probably find that this number would probably be at least 60%, and for the men, 0.
Supermarket employment has become the mecca for middle-aged women looking to return to work after keeping house and raising a family. Now, this is not intended to be a reflection on these women, of their intelligence or social class. What it is intended to be is a criticism of the difficulty these women face returning to a workplace that has become so measured and qualification driven that accusations of ageism are appropriate. In its pursuit of targets, the UK chooses to blindly ignore the wealth of talent and life experience that this forgotten army would be able to bring to its workplaces.
Let’s have a look at some examples, shall we? A middle-aged woman, let’s call her Jane, who is looking for a job as a cleaner would now be advised that she would need an NVQ in Cleaning and Support Services Level 1 (trust us, it does exist) before her application would even be considered. The fact that she has spent at least the past thirty years doing just that seems irrelevant.
Now, Jane has a friend called Jill who has dedicated her adult life to the caring of her children and grandchildren and has decided that she would like to return to work as a nursery assistant. Imagine Jill’s surprise when her application is rejected because she didn’t possess the necessary childcare qualification.
These are just two of the possible scenarios middle-aged women such as Jane and Jill could find themselves in. The answer to this problem to the young amongst us seems simple. Jane and Jill should go back to college and get the qualifications that their potential employers are asking for. Funding is available, although there is no certainty that they would get it. And even if they did decide to do this, surely it would be impossible for either of them to shake the feeling that the central roles they dedicated their lives to fulfilling; mother, wife, carer and the experience they gained, is viewed as worthless by a society that measures everything in terms of financial gain, qualifications, regulations and validation. A society that in its rejection of these women and the insistence that they re-train for a job they’ve been doing for years is never-ending in its complete lack of common sense.
So, the next time you’re in a supermarket, think about these women and also the 161,000 women over 50, registered unemployed, who are still looking for a job that doesn’t treat them like a complete imbecile.
Words: Elena Hatfield.