Ageism, an increasingly common phenomenon, is defined as workplace prejudice that involves a person’s tendency to display a hostile, dismissive or negative attitude towards another person based on their age. This is fueled by the misconception that work quality deteriorates and capacity declines as people age.
Until recently, ageism was seen as discriminatory behavior directed at older employees. With an increasingly diverse workforce made up of employees of different generations, age bias is already occurring throughout the career life cycle – especially for women. According to the Harvard Business Review, gender ageism occurs when there is both age and gender bias. In this situation, there is simply no “appropriate age” for professional women.
”Youngism” at the beginning of the career
This new term appears recently and suggests a prejudice that young people lack competence due to lack of long life experience. At the beginning of their professional journey, when young people are full of energy, ideas and desire, they often encounter mistrust and discrimination. They hear phrases like “Aren’t you too young to come up with such ideas” or get nicknamed by their older colleagues like “kid”, “yound lady”.
At times, young women are confused because they do not look old enough to be in the position they occupy. For example, when a young lady is the manager of a restaurant, and a client from a supplier company thinks that the negotiation meeting will be with the bartender, not with her.
Young ladies are discriminated against when they are of childbearing age. When considering candidates for promotion, recently married ladies may be missed at the selection stage because there is a prejudice that they may go out for a long period of maternity and not complete the work tasks they started.
”Gender ageism” in middle age
If before the age of 40 women are subject to prejudice that they are too young to have the responsibilities that their position requires, the study proves that after the age of 40 they face a different case. Women between the ages of 40 and 60 sometimes don’t get the promotion they deserve because they fall victim to other unconscious biases in the selection process. Evaluators may decide that women have too many family commitments to take on the necessary responsibility in the workplace. Other women in the study cited comments about the way they looked and concerns about the effects of menopause on the quality of their work.
”Oldism” at the end of the career
Women over 60 are often not considered for new positions at all, as they are thought to be approaching retirement age. This makes them feel ignored and demotivated. The opposite is observed for men aged 60 and over, who are considered “fountains of knowledge” and are often engaged in teaching and mentoring younger colleagues. So it turns out that there is no “correct” age at which ladies are considered neither too young nor too old for their tasks.
Dealing with prejudice
The first step is acknowledging that the stereotypes described above exist. This is achieved through diversity, inclusion and inclusion efforts, such as training and the sharing of good practices. The focus should be on the skills, not who has them.
Creating mentoring pairs between the youngest and oldest employees in the company can bring benefits to both.