Ageism in the workplace isn’t new. Neither is sexism. But what happens when ageism and sexism combine? For older working women, this isn’t a theoretical question because they tend to be in the crosshairs of that kind of discrimination all the time.
The collision of two different biases
Essentially, cultural biases in this country skew heavily toward the idea that a youthful appearance is tied to one’s value — particularly when it comes to women. “Lookism,” or biases against women who “look their age” is strong. Women often feel intense pressure, for example, to dye their hair, wear make-up and dress a certain way so that they aren’t dismissed as old or frumpy.
Men, by comparison, are often allowed to age gracefully. Someone may say that a woman with white hair showing is “letting herself go,” while acknowledging that silver at a man’s temples makes him look authoritative and “experienced.”
Ageism in the workplace can affect both genders, naturally, but the biases people harbor about older women and the reactions they may have to a woman’s appearance tends to hit harder. Women are also more likely to experience ageism in the workplace at an earlier age than their male counterparts.
Both younger and older women struggle against biases
It seems like women can’t really catch a break in the workplace at any age. Young women often face discrimination tied to their gender and family planning, as employers seek to marginalize any woman who is pregnant, nursing or caring for young children in ways that they don’t marginalize men and new fathers. A few decades later, those same women may be suddenly “too old” to be the face of the company based solely on a few white hairs.
If you’re facing ageism or gender discrimination (or both) in the workplace, you don’t have to accept that kind of treatment. Find out more about what it takes to fight back through legal means.