Last month I discussed some of the financial considerations women are more likely than men to face as they age. This month, we’ll be looking at a related topic: Age-discrimination and gender in the workplace.
Workplace Age Discrimination and Gender
In spite of laws such as the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) that had been passed in 1967, age discrimination continues to be an ongoing problem in the workplace. AARP conducted a survey in 2018 and found that nearly two out of three workers over 45 had observed or experienced age discrimination in the workplace (seventy-two percent (72%) of female respondents and 57% of male respondents).
Age Discrimination in the Workplace Persists
A fifty-year report on the Age Discrimination Employment Act found that in spite of “decades of research finding that age does not predict ability or performance, employers often fall back on precisely the ageist stereotypes the ADEA was enacted to prohibit.”
Employers and younger workers are still buying into the outdated and unsupported belief that older workers cannot learn, are not motivated, and are out-of-touch. Older workers are often the ones who aren’t considered for promotions and can be the first to lose jobs when organizations cut staff.
An Intersection of Biases
The ADEA report stated the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “has long recognized the theory of intersectional discrimination…when an individual is treated differently because he or she belongs to more than one protected category and is subjected to stereotyping unique to his or her status.” Further, the report stated that “the intersectional claim has become increasingly important for older women as more of them experience both age and sex discrimination.”
Older Women at a Hiring Disadvantage
A study referenced in a 2016 Harvard Business review article found “It is harder for older women to find jobs than it is for older men.” The researchers suggested that women may face more age discrimination because “age discrimination laws do not deal effectively with the situation of older women who face both age and gender bias.” According to the report, “the other possibility touches on society’s focus on the physical appearance of women, a scrutiny that does not seem to similarly impact men.”
According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers cannot discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Yet in 2009, a Supreme Court case, Gross v. FBL Financial Group the Court ruled that age discrimination could not be used along with other forms for discrimination as a “but for” standard. The ADEA report stated that this decision “can be extremely problematic for older women and other minorities who often bring claims under both the ADEA and Title VII.”
In our youth-centered culture, women have been historically valued for their youthful, attractive appearance. A 2017 Pew Research Center report found that what U.S. adults most valued in women was their physical attractiveness. However, for men, their character was most valued. As women age, their perceived value can be diminished.
As Margaret Cruikshank, author of Learning to Be Old: Gender, Culture, and Aging (2013) recognized, some older women have felt pressured to get face-lifts to fit in. A recent study revealed that age discrimination is related to an increased demand for cosmetic procedures. And, no surprise, it is women who are getting the majority of those procedures.
It’s Time for All of Us to Help Change the Narrative about Aging
Age discrimination hurts everyone. As Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism argues, we need to start owning our age. I couldn’t agree more.
We’ve got a lifetime of experience. We have the ability to see things from multiple perspectives. Instead of hiding our age or pretending like we’re younger, we can share what we know with others. We can mentor younger employees, and let our problem-solving skills shine in the workplace. We are often the ones who know how to work with difficult people and customers. We can also demonstrate our interest in growth by learning from younger people as well. We’ve got a lot to offer because of our age, not in spite of our age.