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The Gray Ceiling: Unveiling the Impact of Ageism on Women - Part 1

Mar 25, 2024
A person working at a desk.




Imagine the following workplace scenario:

In a corporate office environment, Jessica, a seasoned professional in her late 50s, finds herself consistently sidelined and overlooked despite her years of experience and expertise in her field. Jessica has been with the company for over two decades, diligently climbing the ranks and contributing significantly to various projects and initiatives.

However, in recent years, Jessica has noticed a shift in how she's treated compared to her younger colleagues, particularly the men. Despite her wealth of knowledge and proven track record, she has been passed over for a promotion twice. In addition, key projects in her area of expertise were assigned to younger, less experienced individuals.

One day, during a team meeting, Jessica presented a well-researched proposal for a new marketing strategy that could significantly boost the company's revenue. Despite her thorough presentation and strong arguments, her ideas are met with skepticism and quickly dismissed by her supervisor and some younger team members.

Jessica feels hurt and frustrated and decides to confront her supervisor about the discrimination she's been facing. However, her concerns are brushed aside, with her supervisor citing vague reasons such as "cultural fit" and "the need for fresh perspectives" to justify her being overlooked.

Feeling increasingly depressed, marginalized, and undervalued, Jessica begins to question her future with the company. She knows she still has a lot to offer and is more than capable of contributing meaningfully. Still, the pervasive ageism in the organization makes it increasingly difficult for her to thrive.


Historically, women have faced higher rates of ageism and disrespect compared to men.

A recent report released by Women of Influence+, a leading global organization committed to advancing gender equity in the workplace, revealed that this is an ongoing issue in workplaces worldwide.

According to the report, nearly 80% of the female respondents across 46 countries reported experiencing age-related discrimination in their careers, and almost half (46.2%) indicated ageism among women as a persistent problem.

Rumeet Billan, CEO of Women of Influence+, argues that workplace ageism is a widespread and systemic challenge. It impacts career progression, confidence, a sense of belonging, and the well-being of women worldwide.


What is Ageism?

Ageism, or age discrimination refers to treating an individual unfairly or unfavorably in employment decisions based solely on their age. This discrimination can occur against both younger and older individuals, although it typically refers to prejudice against older workers.

Age discrimination can happen in all aspects of the employment cycle including hiring, firing, promotions, job assignments, training opportunities, and compensation.


Stereotypes Against Older Workers

In today's workforce, older workers often face many stereotypes that can hinder their professional growth and opportunities. Despite their wealth of experience and expertise, they are sometimes unfairly judged based on age-related assumptions rather than their capabilities, which can significantly impact their career trajectories.

Some of the most common stereotypes against older workers include:

  • The widespread assumption they are less adept at using technology.
  •  The perception they are resistant to change or new ways of doing things.
  •  Misconception they lack the ambition or drive of younger employees.
  •  The assumption they are more prone to illness or less able to handle demanding workloads.
  •  Unfair characterization of being rigid or inflexible in their work habits and schedules.
  •  Misconception that their skills and knowledge have become outdated over time.
  •  Assumptions they are overqualified for certain positions.

Organizations must take steps to combat these stereotypes. Only then will they be able to promote inclusivity, diversity, and equitable treatment for employees of all ages.


The Impact of Age Discrimination on Women

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects job seekers and employees aged 40 and above, shielding them from discrimination based on age.

Despite legal safeguards, employers continue to unfairly discriminate against older workers, due, in most part, to some of the common stereotypes held against older workers, as stated above.

Women are disproportionately impacted by age discrimination, especially because of the intersectionality of their identities. Sarah Wells, an entrepreneur and author of the upcoming book, Go Ask Your Mothers: One Simple Step for Managers to Support Working Moms for Team Success, argues that older women face both ageism and sexism in the workplace, fomenting a hostile environment filled with biased behavior.


Here are some ways in which age discrimination affects women:

 1. Double Standard of Aging. Women often face a double standard when it comes to aging. Society places greater emphasis on youth and physical appearance for women, which can lead to increased pressure to maintain a youthful appearance as they age.

 2. Missed Opportunities for Professional Growth. Age discrimination can hinder women's career progression as they get older. Older women may face barriers to advancement, including being passed over for promotions in favor of younger, less experienced colleagues.

3.  Wage Gap. Age discrimination can exacerbate the gender wage gap for older women. They are often paid less than their male counterparts for the same work. Age discrimination can further contribute to disparities in pay and compensation as women age.


 📌📌📌 In the next issue, we will discuss additional ways age discrimination impacts women. We will also offer you ten key recommendations to help your company combat ageism at work.


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