While sex and gender discrimination are major issues in the workplace, gendered ageism is an equally serious problem affecting many women throughout their careers.
Gendered ageism affects women of all ages – as it is linked not only with age but also with motherhood – but especially women in their 40s and beyond.
A 2021 academic study found that “if ageism is undoubtedly problematic for older workers’ identity processes, ageism and gender-stereotypes represent a double risk for women over 50 in the workplace.”
Women begin to experience the more obvious instances of age discrimination as they appear to age. While men are considered to get wiser and more senior as they grow older, women are looked at as less competent and less credible.
In their Guide “How Ageism Impacts Women Throughout Their Careers,” Women in the Boardroom note that many examples of ageism in the workplace return to the assumption that it’s time for aging women to exit the workplace and retire.
“For instance, we may be left out of learning and enrichment opportunities, it may be assumed that we don’t need or require time off because we have less family commitments now that our children are grown, and we may be overlooked for challenging assignments. Or even worse, we may be forced out of our positions entirely.”
As reports of discriminatory ageism rise, women have a new battlefront to contend with, and if they’re ever going to close the pay gap with their male counterparts, it’s a battle they have to fight together.
While men are considered to get wiser and more senior as they grow older, women are looked at as less competent and less credible.
The Working Mother Ageism
Women of reproductive age are often faced with stereotypes about their status as wives and mothers.
As a result, even before they become mothers, some women may be resistant to sharing information about their personal lives at work. Including, waiting to divulge information about family planning, delaying news about an engagement, or going to some length to hide a pregnancy.
In fact, a 2018 study found that 1 out of 3 women actually remove their wedding bands or engagement rings when they go in for an interview with a potential employer. While it is illegal for employers to ask candidates about their marital status or pregnancy plans, many women fear that giving away this kind of information could hamper their chances of securing a job.
The Motherhood Penalty
Since 2015, PayScale has studied the gender pay gap and has found persistent differences in men’s and women’s earnings. According to the company, women hit their peak earnings when they’re in their forties, while men continue to experience growth in their paychecks as they age.
“This suggests that a key factor driving the divergence in earnings growth is the impact having children has on men and women’s career decisions and the corresponding “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood premium.”
Specifically, after having children, women tend to reduce the number of hours they work outside the home, while men tend to either work the same number of hours or increase the hours they work 1.”
How to end gendered ageism in the workplace
Women in the Boardroom make a few interesting suggestions in their Guide about what we (men, women, and workplaces) can do to end gendered ageism in the workplace.
We can start out by supporting each other, they say.
- Be a mentor to other women.
- Commit to dispelling stereotypes about age.
- Allow, encourage, and reward women when they speak up!
- Be flexible to keep women in the workforce and promote inclusion.
- Promote women into leadership positions.
- Place value on women’s contributions in the workplace.
You can download the Guide here: https://womenintheboardroom.com/