Why Gendered Ageism is a problem and how International Women’s Day could help



Gendered Ageism – “the intersectionality of age and gender bias” (Forbes, 2021)

Not another ‘ism’?! *sigh*

When you work in the ‘people’ space there is so much to worry about that it can feel tough when something else gets added to the list. So what do you need to know about Gendered Ageism and how to handle it so that it feels manageable?

Let’s start by understanding what the problem is, then we know what we’re dealing with. Here’s what the research tells us:

  • Ageism impacts both young and older workers, but it affects older adults most severely
  • Over a third of the workforce is over 50, and predictions are that half the UK’s adult population will be over 50 by 2030
  • Only 42% of managers would be ‘open’ to hiring workers aged between 50 and 64 “to a large extent”, dropping to only 30% for over 65s
  • 71% of workers stated their employer does not value the soft skills gained through years of life experience
  • Gendered Ageism impacts men and women
  • Women are statistically more likely to experience ageism, and to encounter it earlier than their male counterparts
  • It affects women at all stages of their career, but most notably when they are under 35 and over 50
  • This impact is worsened if you are an older woman of colour.

How does Gendered Ageism show up at work?

Gendered Ageism can become built into your policies, procedures and ‘the way we do things around here’ – frequently inadvertently – through overt or covert ‘rules’ about what is normal for your sector, industry or company. Any workplace practice that unfairly advantages one group over another on the basis of both age and gender will do this. It often shows up during hiring processes or talent reviews, where assumptions are made about candidates because they are over or under a certain age, and exacerbating that with gender bias, e.g. making generalisations regarding decisions to have children or at what age someone may retire; these stereotypes are typically more applied to women. If the workplace environment tolerates bullying or harassment on the basis of age, even where co-workers might consider it ‘banter’ (e.g. playing practical jokes on a young apprentice or saying an older worker is “having a senior moment”), then this needs to be addressed. Think this is an over-reaction? Then consider that in the available data until March 2021, age claims were the most numerous discrimination claims in the employment tribunal.

3 tips to tackle Gendered Ageism and make your workplace age-friendly

  1. No more policies! Instead, adapt what you have by reviewing existing HR and DEI policies, documents & initiatives to ensure they are age-inclusive. Utilise external expertise to get a fresh perspective
  2. Educate. Dispel myths & stereotypes. Raise awareness of what it is and who it impacts, and highlight where it is most likely to show up – especially via unconscious bias. 
  3. Embrace flexibility. Both younger and older workers cite flexibility as a core element that attracts/retains them. Ensure job advertisements and ways of working encourage this. Demonstrate to line managers how taking an open-minded view about age can open up the  available talent pool.

Tackling Gendered Ageism On Demand Webinar Recording

International Women’s Day provides an opportune moment to draw attention to the issue of gendered ageism. On the 8th March, we conducted a webinar on Gendered Ageism, led by Carolyn Hobdey, a seasoned specialist in mid-life career management.

During the session, Carolyn delved into the latest research findings in this domain and presented instances of biases that are currently being observed, along with practical solutions that could be implemented to counteract them. Whether you are a manager, an HR/L&D professional, or someone who is personally impacted by gendered ageism, this is a must-watch webinar. The on-demand recording of the session is now available here.

Article by Carolyn Hobdey

Data sources: AARP, CIPD, Deloitte, Forbes, ITV, Medium.com, WBUR, WHO, Workingwise


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