Gendered ageism in the workplace

As ambitious women, we enter the workforce with energy and a passion to do our best work. We are confident in our ability to reach our career goals. We believe that our strong academic background prepares us to advance to the c-suite, and we are determined to make a difference. We’ve got this!

Of course, there are still challenges in the workplace for women. We are not paid equally to our male counterparts. We aren’t offered the same opportunities for sponsorship, high-profile assignments, and promotions. But what we may not be aware of is the threat of gendered ageism, the intersectionality of gender bias, and ageism.

What the data shows

In my recent research of 729 professional women from 18-70+, I found that gendered ageism affects women at every stage of their careers. 80% of women surveyed experienced gendered ageism, including 77% of those under 35, presumably being judged as too young.

The most common experiences were “feeling my opinions were ignored” (47%), “seeing younger colleagues get attention (42%), and “not being invited to key meetings” (35%). Interestingly, 33% stated they felt they could not get an interview because of their age.

So how can you prepare – and what can you do?

Be aware of the bias

First of all, be aware of gendered ageism so you don’t get blindsided. Gendered ageism is not just about older women. Gendered ageism is a reality in the workplace today for all women and though it screams of unfairness, it exists and, in most companies, falls under the radar.

It certainly is not addressed in DEI initiatives. In my research, 77% of respondents reported a prevalence of gendered ageism. Those in public companies were more likely to report a prevalence with 82% compared to private companies at 73%.

Be proactive

Be proactive and vigilant about positioning yourself as a valued contributor. Make sure you understand your value proposition; how your work contributes to positive business outcomes. Use that value proposition to advocate for yourself and build visibility and credibility across the organization. How can you help others achieve their objectives based on your value proposition?

Build a network

Build a supportive network of allies and champions who will speak up for you when you’re not in the room. Reach out to colleagues across generations for strong relationships that enable you both to learn from each other. You are also increasing visibility and influence as you expand your network in this manner.

Declare your ambition

Let your manager know that you’re committed to your job and your company and invested in doing your best work! Have a discussion and get their input about the future and layout a plan for the next few years of how you can continue to add value to the organization.

Keep an eye out

Pay attention to the politics. Getting ahead at any age is not just about your track record and performance. Understanding the workplace dynamics, who has power and influence, and what it takes to get ahead in your environment, especially as a woman, are all important factors to consider in order to position yourself successfully. Remember that your great performance is only one part of the equation to advance. You need to let others know your value, build relationships of influence, and understand the culture.

Recognize your internalized bias

Recognize how your own negative beliefs and assumptions may sabotage your best efforts to move your career forward. What is the story you tell yourself about yourself? Does that story support your ambition? If not, write a new empowering story that embraces your talent, your experience, your wisdom, and everything you bring to the table because of your age. Read that new story out loud each day until you own it.

The reality is that gendered ageism is a challenge for women at any age. Being vigilant about creating visibility, proactively keeping up to date with the skills you need to stay marketable, and positioning yourself as a valuable contributor will keep you in the game throughout your career and help you meet the challenge of gendered ageism.

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