Addressing Gendered Ageism At Work: What Women Can Do About It

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A loyal employee for close to a decade, an office cubicle lined with accolades including honours from a leading university, a string of pleased clients and a true passion for her work. She is a prime candidate. Yet she was overlooked for the promotion. This went to David, her coworker, who, despite carrying out the same tasks as her, received more pay and more praise.

How often have you heard of the above scenario or variations thereof?

Women have been shortchanged in the workplace for years – and it gets even worse once they hit a certain age. After that, these women are labelled old-fashioned, unfit for the job and ultimately forced out of work they genuinely excelled in.

Data has revealed the shocking disparities in the gender pay gap and how little has changed over the past 25 years. Of women who were turned down for a job despite meeting and exceeding all competencies. And while age discrimination laws show some progress toward protecting older women, the issue of gendered ageism still remains.

What is gendered ageism?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was passed in 1967. From that point on, it has come to encompass all kinds of discrimination at work including sexism and ageism.

Gendered ageism has become a more prevalent issue for women in the workplace in recent years. It is the intersectionality of age and gender bias, and it’s a bias that affects a woman’s self-image, confidence, job security and financial stability. It’s a prejudice that takes on the idea that a woman loses credibility, competency and value as they age.

More than one-fifth (20.7%) of those surveyed by Australian Seniors have been personally victimised by age discrimination in the workplace – a figure that has more than doubled since 2016 (9.6%).

While age discrimination can affect all genders, it is most common among women.

Example of gendered ageism in the workplace

A lot of times, gendered ageism can go unnoticed in the workplace. In fact, you’d probably find many hiring managers and HR professionals claiming there is no ageism at their company. Even the most forward-thinking inclusive companies can harbour an ageist environment, and it can start with the smallest and often seemingly “innocent” of actions. For example, someone choosing to ask the younger employee for help with the computer as opposed to an older employee. Other examples of gendered ageism in the workplace include:

  • Being passed over for training or access to reimbursement for continuing education
  • Being left out of social activities or team meetings
  • Being overlooked for more challenging, exciting tasks or opportunities
  • Being overlooked for promotions, raises or accolades
  • Disrespectful comments or remarks about your age in the form of joking or subtle “digs” at your level of fitness or retirement plans
  • Not being considered for a job opening or opportunity despite meeting all skills and requirements
  • Being paid less than someone with the same job title
  • Being overlooked for leadership roles or chances to mentor other employees

What women can do about it

There are many ways in which women and businesses can combat gendered ageism in the workplace.

DARE Editor, Lisa Sinclair, shares some great insight into how companies can be more accommodating of different life stages such as being flexible with the pressures of life, valuing experience, and providing training for employees to upskill and remain relevant. You can find her tips on the Ageing in the Workforce 2021 virtual roundtable. Other tips include:

Knowing your value

Take some time for self-reflection and list all the valuable qualities you bring to your job. How does your work contribute to your organization? To your family? What skills and attributes do you admire in yourself? Communicate your accomplishments and always keep a record of all your positive results and encounters.

Investing in personal & professional development

Industries are always evolving. Make sure you keep your skills fresh by taking time to learn new technologies and being up to date with industry changes. From online courses to short certificate programs or free “how-to” videos on YouTube, make a commitment to continue learning to stay ahead of the game.

Maintaining a high work ethic

It can be hard to maintain the motivation to do your best if you’re being subjected to ageism and discrimination at work. However, it’s important to demonstrate a strong work ethic. Doing so will show your maturity and further showcase the assets you bring to your company. And if they can’t value it, there will be someone else who does.

Call it out

If you are subject to or bear witness to gendered ageism in the workplace, keep a record of the incident. This document can help you gain leverage in negotiations and can be used to win a lawsuit if you choose to go down that route. You should also know your rights and familiarize yourself with the Age Discrimination in Employment Law’s of your country.

Ageing is a part of life. However, being prejudiced against or looked down upon because of your age should not be. If you are a woman experiencing ageism in the workplace, there are a few steps you can take. The biggest step is being aware of the issue of gendered ageism and how it can affect you on a professional and personal level. The next step is to remain proactive in combating ageism. This can be done in the form of personal/professional development as well as reminding companies and society at large to live up to the ideals of diversity and inclusion policies and to remain progressive when it comes to fighting double standards.

Taylor Machuca-Koniw

Taylor is a freelance writer specializing in lifestyle, love and health.  Growing up in country Australia, she loves spending time outdoors and going for adventures with her family. Expert in self-care alternating between nature walks and bubble baths with Sex and the City marathons in between. She is a free spirit, who never needs an excuse to dress up and prefers working late into the night writing.