Women and age discrimination in the workforce is alive and well

By Sylvie Golod

I often say “life happens” when consulting women who are experiencing sudden, negative triggers that persistently tug at and ultimately pull the proverbial rug right out from under them. The pandemic is one trigger that we all have in common. Even prior to COVID-19 many people struggled with a job loss, unplanned retirement, hostile work environments, divorce, empty-nesting, illness, spousal deaths and/ or becoming a family caregiver.

All these situations are compounded with health challenges and the additional hurdles of ageism and sexism. Whether trying to maintain present employment or pursue newly redesigned opportunities, be it full-time, part-time, and/or to supplement our income, the reality is that Silver Tone women face a daunting, uphill obstacle course.

One woman’s fight against ageism

For example, a good friend of mine with an established work performance and reputation in corporate banking garnered her a position as vice president at the age of 53. No ageism and sexism barrier issue here within this male-dominated industry, right? Wrong.

As my friend entered her early 60s, she noticed the signs, which began with not being seated on any of the bank’s new project committees. These roles were largely filled with younger employees whom the bank thought needed grooming through new challenges and inclusion to take on future managerial roles.

Then, inferred and unsubstantiated remarks regarding her performance goals began being directed to her. “I knew it was an attempt to encourage me to retire.  I took an assertive yet professional approach and started documenting incidences in preparation to disprove the many unfounded allegations.” The opportunity to defend her case came during varied evaluation meetings, which included, at her insistence, with the executive vice president.

Her approach caught her superiors off guard because they underestimated her quiet manner as belonging to someone who would simply acquiesce rather than face confrontation. She remained with the company for 12 years, added value as one of the highest producers and eventually retired on her own terms.

How ironic that the wisdom of an older woman in the workforce was a powerful remedy against ageism that resulted in respect.  (Can you hear Aretha Franklin singing in the background?)

Arming Yourself Against Ageism

  1. Learn the new technology. This is critical when interacting with younger employees.
  2. Be a mentor to younger co-workers. Since most business is done on the computer, the younger generation is eager to learn business development skills honed by their more mature peers.
  3. Interact socially on some level with all peers and coworkers.
  4. Communicate well with your manager(s) to stay abreast of the key issues going on with your employer and convey your ongoing contributions.
  5. Work on any weak areas pointed out in a performance review.
  6. Remain a top producer in all measurable categories. This is a powerful deterrent to ageism and serves you well if litigation results.
  7. Document your experiences so you have data to reinforce your evaluations.
  8. Consider starting your own business, preferably while you are still working in your industry.