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January 6, 2022

Professional Women’s Experiences At The Intersection of Ageism and Sexism

Research shows that ageism may now be the most pervasive form of discrimination in the workplace. However, far from affecting all older employees equally, studies also show that women tend to bear the brunt of age bias and discrimination. The phenomenon is known as gendered ageism, and it is becoming a growing problem for women.

Part of the issue is that society is preoccupied with youth and attractiveness in women. Catalyst calls it lookism. Women are viewed differently as soon as they show visible signs of aging. But, beyond feeling pressure to look younger than they are, older women are often sidelined in the workplace and job market. They are seen as less competent, less valuable, and even irrelevant as they get older. This has implications for job security and financial stability.

Indicators of Gendered Ageism

Ageism tends to start during the recruitment process. Older applicants are less likely to be called back for a second interview. One reason for this could be the assumptions that interviewers make about applicants based on their appearance.

Another consideration is that women who have gaps in their resumes are often at a disadvantage. Those who leave the workforce to raise a family or care for elderly parents often regress in their careers and are forced to take lower-paying jobs.

Meanwhile, older women in the workplace tend to be overlooked for training and development opportunities because supervisors see them as unable to adapt or uninterested in learning more. Older women may also be given tedious, mundane tasks rather than creative projects.

Not only do these practices affect self-esteem and mental health, but they have a negative impact on benefits. Women often start off at a disadvantage since they earn less than men for equal work. When they are passed over for promotions or raises, it makes things worse.

The workplace can also be hostile for older employees who are made the target of jokes or comments about computer literacy or readiness for retirement. It’s not surprising that some older workers are laid off or forced to retire before they’re ready.

What Older Women Experience in the Workplace

The above occurrences are anecdotal. However, one study conducted by executive coach Bonnie Marcus and Catherine Lindner of Out-Wit Inc. sheds more light on the situation. The survey was conducted among 729 professional women aged from 18 to 70-plus. Sixty-five percent of the respondents were from the United States, while most of the others were from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe. Let’s look at some of the key takeaways.

Eighty percent of the respondents reported experiencing gendered ageism in some way. A third of all the women believed they couldn’t get a job or interview because of their age. Many reported feeling like their opinions were being ignored, or that younger colleagues were getting more attention. Meanwhile, 35% of the respondents said they weren’t invited to important meetings.

Notably, women said they felt they were seen as either too old or too young. Seventy-seven percent of the under-35 age group said they’d experienced the negative effects of age bias. Based on the survey, women start experiencing gendered ageism at the age of 35. Sixty percent of the respondents aged 35 to 40 said they were subjected to it. That proportion increased to 88% among women aged 59 to 64.

Three-quarters of the women who reported experiencing discrimination – and were still on the job – said they didn’t take any action. In most cases, this was because they didn’t think it would make a difference. Others didn’t trust the human resources department, or they didn’t want to risk losing their jobs. Those who sought recourse received little satisfaction.

Final Thoughts

When sexism and gender collide in the job market and workforce, women suffer. While older men are also pushed to the sidelines in favor of younger workers, women experience it earlier. Once women are forced out of the workplace, it becomes harder for them to be rehired and this can lead to less than desirable retirement funds.

Age needs to be managed just like any other measure of diversity, equity, and inclusion. HR managers need to talk to women about the challenges they face as they get older and then put policies in place to ensure their needs are met. If you’re an HR professional or a business owner who wants to root out gendered ageism, the team at WiseForce Advisors can help you. Contact us today at info@wiseforceadvisors.com to schedule a consultation.