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Women Face Workplace Ageism at All Ages


According to recent findings by Harvard Business Review, ageism against women in the workplace is a pervasive issue regardless of their age. The study indicated that women faced different barriers to promotion from when they were young, middle-aged, and older. Overall, the study advises that companies need to be more mindful of ageism and gender discrimination to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace culture.

The study surveyed over 900 women in professional roles, ranging from higher education executives to attorneys and physicians, and revealed that discrimination is an ongoing issue in the workplace. The women reported facing discrimination at every stage of their career. According to Amy Diehl, chief information officer at Wilson College and a gender bias expert who co-authored the study, "No matter what age the women were, it was 'never quite right' for leadership.”

Challenges Female Employees Face

For younger women in the workplace, the study found that they often face barriers to promotion due to the perception that they lack experience. Additionally, they may be subject to belittling behavior such as being given pet names, being patted on the head, and encountering "role incredulity.” This occurs when others mistakenly assume they are interns or administrative assistants. This bias can make it difficult for younger women to be taken seriously and advance in their careers.

Middle-aged women face a unique form of ageism in the workforce. Unfortunately, they are often viewed as having too many family obligations and may be overlooked for promotions or new job opportunities. For example, one college leader described how some search committees chose not to hire women in their forties due to “too much family responsibility and impending menopause.”

Furthermore, the study revealed other search committees did not hire women in their fifties because of “menopause-related issues and could be challenging to manage.” However, in contrast to these findings, these jobs were given to similarly aged men.

Ageism still persists towards older women as well. The authors of the study discovered that older male workers are often regarded as authoritative, while females of the same age group are often discounted. One physician from the study noted that, “while men become wells of wisdom as they age, older women are seen as outdated, harpy, strident.”

Overall, the study found that older women in the workplace felt “discouraged, burnt out, and resigned to not advancing any further.”

Gender Gap in Leadership Roles

The findings in this study shed light on the ongoing challenge of gender bias in the workplace. Women continue to face barriers in their career trajectories especially in leadership roles. For example, according to McKinsey & Company, only 1 in 5 C-suite positions are held by women.

The impacts of ageism also negatively affect women’s ability to save for retirement at the same level as men. According to new retirement savings data, the average 401(k) balance for men ($89,000) is 50% higher than women ($59,000).

Age bias is a key factor affecting women of all ages and preventing them from reaching their full potential. Diehl notes that “So many young and middle-aged women are being kept from professional advancement. Their careers get stalled at the entry and mid-levels.” The study's implications are significant, as they highlight the urgent need for companies to address these unspoken barriers and foster a more inclusive workplace culture.

Ageism continues to be a major issue for women in the workforce. The authors suggest that more comprehensive measures may be necessary to overcome this bias, such as evaluating hiring and promotion decisions solely on the basis of skill. Additionally, they recommend that "lookism," or prejudice based on physical appearance, be included in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Although recognizing and addressing ageism in the workplace is a complex challenge, the authors highlight the importance of simply acknowledging its existence as a critical first step in combating this bias.

Contact Shellist Lazarz Slobin

Contrary to popular belief, ageism not only affects older women but women of all ages. If you have experienced age discrimination in the workplace, it's important to take action. At Shellist Lazarz Slobin, our experienced age discrimination lawyers can investigate and pursue discrimination claims for employees across Texas and beyond.

We're committed to preventing and remedying unlawful acts of age discrimination, so don't hesitate to contact us if you've been a victim. Dial (713) 352-3433 or reach out to us online.