Gendered Ageism – the New Sexism

by Nov 5, 2023

What is Gendered Ageism?

Gendered ageism refers to the differences in ageism faced by women and men.

Joan Collins famously said “Age is just a number. It’s totally irrelevant, unless you happen to be a bottle of wine”

Perhaps…. unless you are a woman.

We also hear 60 is the new 40… right?

Not even. Women over 40 are called back for further interview at half the rate of younger candidates.

Largest type of sexism

Gendered ageism is the new and largest type of sexism. Ageism is generally defined as the “stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people based on their age.” Gendered ageism refers to the differences in ageism faced by women and men. The term covers the intersectionality of age and gender two disadvantaged groups older people and women. In the workplace, age discrimination is both a business and diversity issue, especially in a time of acute skill shortage.

Research from PwC indicates that only 8% of companies incorporate ageism when they are designing their D&I policies. Even with a global talent problem and skillset gap, companies don’t target older demographics to meet increasingly acute needs.

Older workers are the fastest-growing demographic globally and women in this age group report an increase in age bias.  Somewhat astonishingly age bias can start as young as 40. Ageism is the most common type of discrimination in Europe.

  • Research from Catalyst suggests that more than 44% of European respondents confirm this.
  • 64% of those interviewed in the United Kingdom also reported being concerned about age discrimination.
  • 61% of US workers at or over the age of 45 reported witnessing or experiencing ageism in the workplace.

In the U.S. the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported an increase of 15% increase in the number of age discrimination charges brought by women at or over the age of 40 between 1990 and 2017. In the same period, charges by men within the same age range decreased by 18%.

Objections to older workers

Challenges older workers face are based on stereotypes and assumptions unrelated to competence. As a result, older women are diminished, marginalized, and excluded.  These activities are often presented as part of downsizing, consolidation, and other reasons to cover discriminatory actions.

  • Older job seekers will be more expensive.
  • They will leave as soon as they have another opportunity
  • They will be less adaptable and flexible
  • They will lose time for health issues.
  • They will struggle to work with younger teams.

 

Appearance bias

Older women are impacted by appearance in any interviewing situation, but this increases with age as many feel pressured by global cultures where youthful appearance is a key driver. Women tend to work in pink silos or via occupational  segregation such as retail, sales, healthcare and hospitality where appearance is considered to be important.

Gender ageism impacts women at every stage in the hiring process:

  • Older women job seekers receive more rejections than older men
  • Older female candidates are less likely to be called back for a further interview  –  half the rate of younger candidates.
  • The unemployment rate for older women  (65+) rose from 14% to 50% from 2007 to 2013

 

Skillset attributes

Women aged 55 and over will constitute over one-third of new hires joining the workforce from 2016 to 2026. They are in a position to make significant contributions.

This is what older women bring to the table:

  • Talent and experience. Older employees have better communication and soft skills, as well as similar or even better technical skills as their younger counterparts.
  • Women are more capable investors, managers, and entrepreneurs.
  • Improved results. Their greater experience means that older individuals supplement the skills of a younger workforce. They make better decisions which leads to enhanced productivity and innovation. Digital skills can be learned over a short period. Experience takes longer to acquire.
  • Fast and economical way to strengthen the talent pipeline.
  • Increased engagement: older workers report higher levels of job satisfaction.

Read: Job search tips for mature candidates 

According to PwC, only 8% of companies listed as the most diverse workplaces by Fortune and A Great Place to Work consider age as a dimension of diversity. Even with today’s talent shortage, many corporations continue to ignore ways to retain or tap into the talent of their older employees. It’s time to expand our definition of inclusion and increase the talent pool to include the fastest-growing labour pool—older employees.

Layer on intersectionality around race then the outlook gets bleaker. A 28-year-old white man is THREE times more likely to be called for an interview than a 50-year-old woman white woman.

Action organisations can take

gendered ageism

Organisations can take steps to overcome gendered ageism by diversifying sourcing channels, offering to upskill in some tech areas, and creating returnships and, alumnae opportunities. More importantly, they can start managing the bias within the recruitment process, especially in a talent crunch. Involving Talent Development in the hiring process will also support workforce planning initiatives that support the employment of older women.

Women should also seek support from occupational networks or even women’s groups. Much derided over recent years, they can offer critical support.

When employers bleat about skill set shortages it seems crazy to overlook this demographic. Many also face pension poverty  which in Europe is 30%, so the additional years of employment will be critical.

Organisations need to do more to mitigate against bias at every stage of the hiring process.

 

Create a bias-conscious hiring process  – get in touch NOW!

 

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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