By Jeanene Tracy
Twenties, thirties and beyond, it doesn’t matter what age you are, if you’re a woman, it’s highly likely you or a gal pal have been on the short end of the stick when it comes to opportunities at work. We’ve battled inequality and sexism in the workplace for centuries, and one of the most frustrating things about this is when our passion for a job, promotion or simply a pay rise is not met with the same enthusiasm by naysayers. Many women continue to fight for their place when it comes to the job of their fancy, whether it’s a seat at the corporate table or a position on the starting line at the race-of-a-lifetime.
In 1967 Kathrine Switzer, a highly motivated American woman refused to accept that she couldn’t compete in the Boston Marathon because she was a female. Thankfully, she ignored officials and completed the race, not only conquering the marathon but many egos who believed women were not capable of such a feat. We have to be thankful and pay homage to all of those determined, focused women who have challenged the false perceptions of what we’re capable of achieving. Even though the typical female stereotype has expanded and evolved from decades past, sexism is still rife in our modern world.
As we roll into 2021, not only are we dealing with just sexism at work but now we’re combating ageism, Yay! A double whammy of gendered ageism. These days, we’re not only underestimated because of our sex, but also because of our age. There are two specific times in our lives where assumptions about our choices are at their most potent and damaging, child-bearing years and retirement age. Our work opportunities are blatantly roadblocked when we reach either of these prime ages. In both of these circumstances, vastly different experiences unfold for women; let’s get real, kids and retirement happen at entirely different stages for each woman, and for many, it never happens. Unless of course you win the lottery and retire at 25!
So why are many employers turning down experience and wisdom because women might have a child or retire sometime in the future? It just doesn’t make sense.
Surely, You’ll Be Having Children Soon?
So you’re in your late twenties and recently married, surely you’re planning to have kids now? This assumption has been a pretty common opinion of society until recently. Back in the day a woman got married, had children, then dedicated the rest of her life to being a mother, then a grandmother; she was living the ultimate maternal life. Her husband trundled off to work to earn enough money to put bread on the table. The truth is, we are way past those ancient ways of thinking and equality has come reasonably far in recent times, so why is it that recruiters and employers insist on making decisions based on past concepts of what females bring to the workplace? Apparently, women who are married without kids are considered the highest risk to employers, and according to research, women who have children between 25-35 years of age will most likely find it difficult to equalise pay with their male counterparts once they return to work.
On the flip side, more Dads are opting to stay at home with their children. In Canada in 1976, one in 70 Dads were at home with the kids, compared to today where more than one in 10 opt for full-time fatherhood. In the USA, 7% of fathers stay-at-home, and in Australia, there were 80,000 at-home-dads in 2016. The Canadian government recognises the value in Dads being at home with the kids, so when a couple opts for shared parental leave, they get an extra five weeks to spend with their family. With more men choosing to stay home to parent their children, the irrational fear of losing female employees to motherhood is starting to lose ground.
You’re Not Young Enough AKA You’re Too Old
Your grey hair is not welcome here; we want fresh young blood, hip people who can move quickly and know how to use computers better. There are so many assumptions surrounding people over the age of 40 and the discrimination in this age group is so blatant, that there is an abundance of laws to protect against this conduct. If you think ageism is a joke, you’ll be shocked to hear about the client who specifically asked the recruiter for ‘young pretty people’. It really exists, and unbelievably, lookism is actually a thing too. So we also have that against us? Agghh!
According to a survey by The Riveter, 43% of women over 55 believe they were overlooked for a project or promotion that they were capable of because they were too old. A woman under the age of 45 is more likely to land a second interview, but if she’s older, then she can expect more rejections than her male counterparts. Sadly, for women over 65, their potential for employment doesn’t look good, with more than 50% being jobless.
Older women have a wealth of knowledge and experience, so how can we wake employers up and get them to take advantage of the wisdom of our legendary allies? There are so many ways older women can contribute to businesses. They’ve most likely watched the industry develop and change over the years, so they have a pretty good perspective on trends and resolutions. It’s no doubt they’ve made their share of mistakes, and hopefully learned from them, so they have a clearer picture of what works best for the company. As a bonus, when older women are employed, they are less strain on the economy, because they are not asking for handouts from the government and actively spend money on the things they love to have and do. Their hard-earned cash goes straight back into the economy.
Gendered ageism is a scourge in the workplace. Ladies, it is time to stand up, speak up and show them your worth, because there are so many more valid reasons to have us on the team than on the sidelines. It is time employers saw our value, not our gender or age.