How Ageism Impacts Women Throughout Their Careers | Women in the Boardroom


How Ageism Impacts Women Throughout Their Careers

“As soon as women show any visible signs of aging, they are viewed as not only less attractive, but less competent.” – Bonnie Marcus

The intersection of age and gender can be a hefty anchor for women as they look to advance throughout their careers. Oftentimes when we think of ageism, we generally think of the very real prejudice that aging individuals experience later in their careers.

This may look something like being excluded for consideration as an applicant for a position or losing your job late in your career due to a reorganization or downsizing and being forced into early or unwanted retirement. But ageism is pervasive throughout a person’s career, especially even more so for women.

Let’s take a look at how gendered ageism can have a harmful impact on a woman’s career.

The Working Mother and Ageism

Even before women become mothers, some 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, 1 out of 3 women actually remove their wedding bands or engagement rings when they go in for an interview with a potential employer.

And women have good reason to hide these big life events, though nobody wants to separate their lives into different compartments, women are forced to. We can often be stereotyped as caregivers who aren’t serious about our careers, resulting in not getting that invite to team building extracurriculars outside of the office or being overlooked for a promotion.

As of recent, we’ve witnessed the mass exodus of women from the workforce because of the impacts of the covid pandemic, further expanding the gender and racial pay gap. This has only exasperated the wage gap, and undoubtedly it will take decades to amend this problem.

The Motherhood/Caregiver Penalty

According to PayScale, women hit their peak earnings when they’re in their forties, but 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.”

Additionally, many women begin to care for their aging parents during this decade in their life. Employers may view this as a decrease in focus on their careers, even though women are proven better at multi-tasking, further delegitimizing a woman’s ambition for her profession.

Age Discrimination As We Appear Older

Women begin to experience the more obvious instances of age discrimination as we appear to age. While men are considered to be wiser and more senior as they grow older, women are looked at as less credible.

Many examples of ageism in the workplace return to the assumption that it’s time for aging women to exit the workplace. This is even more exacerbated by the belief that if we are not a digital native, growing up with technology, that we are not current on today’s business needs and do not have the knowledge and skills to support companies in the future strategies and plans, or if you are not “young” you won’t be able to understand or discern the latest cultural trends.

These assumptions may lead to being left out of learning and enrichment opportunities, strategic initiatives, and being overlooked for challenging and high impact assignments. Or even worse, we may be forced out of our positions entirely.

How To End Gendered Ageism In The Workplace

What can we (men, women, and workplaces) do to end gendered ageism in the workplace? We can start out by supporting each other.

  • 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.
  • Provide opportunities for continuous learning and growth assignments.
  • Promote women into leadership positions.
  • Place value on women’s contributions in the workplace.

If you’re interested in continuing the conversation, Reach out to me directly! Sheila Ronning, CEO & Founder, Women in the Boardroom.

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