We constantly hear about big companies adjusting their hiring policies to be more inclusive and transparent. On paper, it seems that discrimination, especially toward women, should have been eliminated decades ago. But in practice, it feels alive and well. So what went wrong?

Ageism toward women is still a controversial topic in many human resource departments. But studies show that it’s a real phenomenon that negatively impacts many companies.

The invisible problem

By definition, ageism is a discriminatory practice on the basis of age. It can be seen everywhere from how bosses talk to their employees to how new people are recruited.

Part of the problem is that companies allocate sizable portions of their resources to attract younger employees. Moreover, women are pushed out of the workforce at an earlier age than men.

Age bias is so pernicious in part because it’s deeply rooted in our subconscious. Senior people are assumed to be less capable of specific kinds of work. The reality is that, while their skill sets may change, older people still add value to the workforce.

Career-end at 40

According to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, there are two explanations for why female job seekers over age 40 face more age discrimination than males.

The first has to do with discrimination laws protecting women to a lesser degree than their male counterparts. The second deals with a more trivial reason: looks.

The study also found that women aged 40 or above received fewer calls from recruiters, were more likely to be laid off from a sales position and, in general, experienced more gender and age discrimination than men.

According to the non-profit organization Catalyst, “older women face marginalization based on ‘lookism.’” They not only face the same false perception as men of being less innovative, adaptive, and qualified than a younger person. But they also report feeling pressured to adhere to societal beauty standards.

What does the age bias look like

To some, age discrimination toward women in the workplace would sound like a novelty. Others will be quick to point out that ageism is a much greater problem for women than sexism. A white paper released by The Riveter argues that of all identity factors that impacted women’s work experience, age was more prevalent than sex among those surveyed.

Oftentimes ageism is hard to spot, but a few sure signs include criticism of physical appearance, unfair standards, and not providing access to additional training or networking events. Denying salary raises and role promotions is another sign of ageism.

How can ageism toward women be prevented?

By using employee engagement tools like Clarity Wave, Human Resource managers could collect feedback and monitor the workplace climate to identify the first signs of age discrimination toward women in the workplace.

Managers could also use online personality tests like PersonalityMax which can help them assess more accurately the different psychological aspects of their employees, and promote those who align better with the company’s core values and have demonstrated positive results.

Women in the workplace

It’s difficult for a female employee to fight ageism, especially without allies from within her company. Women who feel underappreciated by their managers should aim to build meaningful relationships with colleagues, supervisors, and professionals outside of their organization. Such connections should be used as a leverage in difficult situations as well as to access new ideas, trends, and technologies. Strategic relationships could both lead to the acquisition of new skills and change the perception of younger colleagues.

Using your portfolio as a shield

Employees facing ageism could try to identify who in their organization could assign them higher-risk projects. Offering to work together will build more credibility and expertise. Higher-positioned professionals could assist women in getting ahead in their careers, and possibly vouch for them when in an age discriminating situation.

Having the tough talk

If an employer does not recognize and talk about ageism toward women in the company, there are two possible reasons:

  1. They are not aware
  2. They do not care/are an accomplice.

In either case, the best first step is a frank, but respectful, discussion.

The way forward

Despite big talk about diversity and inclusivity, few companies put ageism in their HR policies. The truth is that hiring and retaining senior employees taps into a more talented pool with a more diversified skill set, lowers employee retention costs, and possibly increases productivity.

Designing work policies around greater inclusivity and providing additional training and reskilling programs for older female employees will likely increase overall employee engagement.

Christian Antonoff lends his writing skills to Independent Fashion Bloggers. He has worked as a journalist and is passionate about black coffee and aged whiskey. In his spare time, he loves to attend art exhibitions and music concerts.

Headshot: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-8y-qX9ibdgfMy4T7Txk7bTw2xqQSXh6/view?usp=sharing


Image credits:

Photo 1:  LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash

Photo 2: LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash

Photo 3: Christina Morillo from StockSnap

Photo 4: Authentic Images on Pikwizard

Women in workplace stock photo by Atstock Productions/Shutterstock