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The Gray Ceiling: Unveiling the Impact of Ageism on Women - Part 2

Apr 01, 2024
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In Part 1 of this series, we went over a workplace scenario to help you see, firsthand, how age discrimination impacts individuals in the workplace. In addition to focusing on the definition of ageism, we also revealed some of the stereotypes older workers still face. Lastly, we discussed some of the ways age discrimination is particularly detrimental to women. You can catch Part 1 here.

In this edition, we continue to discuss the pervasive effects of age discrimination on women. Additionally, we will leave you with 10 key strategies to help your address ageism in the workplace.


The Impact of Age Discrimination on Women (contd)

Last week, we discussed the double standards of aging because society places greater emphasis on youth and physical appearance for women.

We also talked about how age discrimination can hinder women's career progression as they get older, and how age discrimination can further contribute to disparities in pay and compensation as women age.

Below, you will find a few more ways women are impacted by age discrimination.


  1.  Fewer Job Opportunities

Age discrimination can impact older women's ability to secure employment or re-enter the workforce after a career break. These challenges stem from the fact that employers often assume younger candidates are a better fit for the organization.


  1.  Limited Training and Development Opportunities

Older women may be denied access to training and development opportunities because employers assume they are less in need of training. In the long run, this leads to missed opportunities for skill enhancement and career advancement.


  1.  Financial Insecurity in Retirement

Age discrimination impacts older women's ability to retire with financial security. Discrimination in hiring, promotion, and compensation limits older women's earning potential and savings, which can affect their ability to support themselves in retirement.


  1.  Health and Well-Being

Age discrimination can have negative impacts on older women's mental and emotional well-being. Experiencing discrimination in the workplace can lead to stress, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy, affecting overall job satisfaction and quality of life.


Overall, age discrimination compounds the challenges that women face in the workforce, further contributing to inequalities in employment opportunities, wages, career advancement, and more. Addressing age discrimination is essential for promoting gender equality and creating inclusive workplaces where women can thrive at all stages of their careers.


Key Strategies to Help Combat Ageism at Work

Age discrimination in employment is real and it is a serious problem which not only harms hard-working individuals but also their families. While we do need stronger civil rights protection for older workers, here are some strategies companies can adopt to create an age-friendly workplace:


  1. Challenge the myths and inaccurate stereotypes hindering older workers' contribution. Age is not a reliable indicator when judging a worker’s potential productivity or employability. An AARP study showed that workers aged 50 and up are among the most engaged members of the workforce. They also offer employers lower turnover rates and greater levels of experience.


  1. Capitalize on your older workers’ expertise. Before you start planning for their exit from the company, find ways to harness their productivity and wealth of expertise. If you don’t do that, you will be missing out on a great opportunity for your company.


  1. Increase opportunities for intergenerational teams. Several studies have shown that exposing young individuals to older workers can diminish the implicit bias of older adults. It can also change younger people’s perceptions about aging.


  1. Abolish mandatory retirement ages in favor of phased retirement programs. By allowing individuals to gradually transition into retirement, organizations can foster a more inclusive, flexible, and sustainable environment that can adapt to the evolving needs of society while respecting individuals' autonomy and dignity. Let us not forget that this also allows your organization to retain invaluable institutional knowledge.


  1. Audit your company’s policies and address any inequities you see in place. This is imperative for fostering an inclusive environment where all employees feel valued and supported, regardless of their career stage. It also ensures that resources and opportunities are distributed equitably, promoting equal access to advancement.


  1. Make sure training and development opportunities are offered to all employees, regardless of age. This is essential for fostering a dynamic and skilled workforce. By providing equal access to conferences, workshops, and training events for both younger and older employees, organizations demonstrate their commitment to continuous learning and growth for every individual within the company. Moreover, recognizing that innovation and industry trends evolve rapidly, it becomes imperative to equip employees of all ages with the necessary skills and knowledge to adapt and thrive in their roles.


  1. See that your employee handbook includes an age discrimination policy. Often, employee handbooks contain policies against sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination, but not on age discrimination. You also need to include the steps employees should take if they feel they have been discriminated against. Explain the policy to all employees and make sure all managers understand it.


  1. Ensure flexible policies are in place and that they apply to all employees. Implementing flexible policies that are uniformly applied to all employees, irrespective of age, is vital for promoting fairness, work-life balance, and employee satisfaction. By ensuring consistency in granting accommodations such as leaving early for family commitments, regardless of the employee's age, organizations demonstrate their commitment to valuing the diverse needs and responsibilities of their workforce.


  1. Address any microaggressions you see taking place. If you notice someone making frequent comments about someone’s age, no matter how lighthearted they seem to be, take the employee aside and let them know this is not an acceptable practice in the workplace. This would be a good opportunity for you to review your age discrimination policy with the employee.


  1. Make sure your website is inclusive and welcoming to all. Whether featuring stock photos or images of actual employees, it's imperative to depict a diverse workforce that reflects the reality of your organization and the broader community. Failing to do so risks alienating potential job applicants who may feel undervalued or overlooked if they don't see themselves represented.


 Final Thoughts

We are living in a time where we now find multiple generations working side by side. 

You must pay very close attention to the impact of age discrimination--especially because ageism in the workplace can be subtle and hard to detect. Even if not intentional, ageism has the devastating effect of driving older workers out and preventing highly qualified ones in.

For women, the impact is even more devastating because of the intersectionality of their identities.

The sad reality is that women constantly face judgment and must strive to demonstrate their worth. When they are young, they miss opportunities due to maternal bias. Later in their careers, they are deemed too old to contribute effectively.

The economic and societal impacts of ageism are also worrisome as workers live longer but feel less financially secure in retirement. In today’s economy, healthy pensions or employer-matched 401(k)s are rare. So, creating opportunities for older workers to support themselves could ease pressure on an already overburdened social safety net.

Above all, understand that having an inclusive workplace with a diverse range of employees will only strengthen your business and make you a better competitor in the marketplace.



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