Examining the challenges women face after leaving the workforce

Takeaways from the final episode of the Women, Work, More podcast

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Illustration of a food service worker (left) and caretaker (right), both with concerned expressions
Give this podcast a listen for intersectional feminist insight on labour-related issues. ILLUSTRATION: Alyssa Umbal / The Peak

By: Gurleen Aujla, Peak Associate

Women, Work, More is a four-episode podcast series hosted by SFU sociology and labour studies student Alyha Bardi. The series eloquently shines a light on women in different stages and positions of the working world. In episode four, “Senior Women & Economic Insecurity,” Bardi focuses on issues surrounding pensions and retirement. I was intrigued to hear the last episode because the subject is rarely discussed in media. 

The episode features Sheila Block, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Jo-Ann Hannah, retired director of Pensions and Benefits at Unifor. Alongside anonymous snippets of lived experiences, the episode spotlights intersectional impacts on retirement incomes. “As a single parent, you’re just, you’re in the moment. Just doing your daily stuff [ . . . ] If you struggled all through those years and don’t have a high income and a high pension and own property, it’s concerning to be older,” one interviewee shared.

Speaking about a recent report published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Block and Hannah explained since pension earnings are based on contributions made to collective funds during employment, systemic factors experienced by women during their time in the workforce follow them into retirement. This includes gendered pay gaps and jobs that don’t provide pensions, such as caregiving. If someone takes time away from the workforce, as women are more likely to do, that also impacts their pension. As a young woman in the working world, I realized this could significantly impact my livelihood decades from now.

A recurring theme was the importance of intersectionality. However, pensions, either public or private, don’t have different lenses through which they operate. “Today, only 25% of workers in the private sector have a pension plan. So employers are showing they don’t want to provide pensions,” Hannah said. Hearing womens’ lived experiences powerfully solidified this fact. 

Another interviewee explained they will receive three pensions after they retire, but “those three pensions are way too low to live.” How can we account for systemic issues impacting the livelihood of seniors? We’re no longer talking about these issues as a theory or relic of the past. The oldest interviewee in this episode was 82 and still working. This speaks volumes about the failures of our current system. 

Block explained pension income is “a reflection of both your privilege and your marginalization throughout your working life.” This made me wonder how pensions, meant to support an individual’s standard of living after decades of contribution to the labour force, come as a byproduct of capitalism. Is it possible to have an adequate and equitable pension under a system designed to maximize profit over people? 

Lastly, Block highlighted people are no longer spending decades working at the same company. They’re moving from job to job, being self-employed, freelancing, and experiencing “precarious work patterns.” Our pension system is not reflective of the current labour market and trends. 

While not a typical conversation I have with friends over coffee, this episode exemplified the need to keep a careful eye on your pension contributions and future financial situation. Young adults shouldn’t sit out of these conversations just because we aren’t currently impacted by pensions. Hearing the stories in this podcast was a wake-up call. It’s important that we have a pension system in this country that equitably serves our needs. 

Women, Work, More is part of the Below the Radar series from SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement (SFU VOCE). Podcast episodes and transcripts can be found on the SFU VOCE website.