Older Women Face Age Discrimination at Work

Lauren Stiller Rikleen, a researcher and consultant, spent years listening to senior women discuss their experiences of discrimination in the workplace. Rikleen heard the same stories from women who work across every industry: lost jobs, demotions, and the difficulty of finding new positions.

“For many of the women I spoke with, these challenges arose just as they were freed from the family responsibilities that slowed their career progress when they were younger,” says Rikleen. Women also experience an increased wage gap with age — by the time they reach 50, females earn an average of 55 cents on the dollar compared to male counterparts. In the Harvard Business Review, Rikleen breaks down the challenges that senior women face:

“These women often have long histories of career success, but they have seen their responsibilities assigned to younger workers, their compensation lowered for inexplicable reasons, and their career mobility impaired by a workplace that seems to value youth over experience.”

Extensive academic research backs these anecdotal stories. In one study, The National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed more than 40,000 job applications across sectors. Their team found strong evidence of age discrimination against women applicants. Research conducted by Tulane University and University of California at Irvine came to the same conclusion: age discrimination disproportionately affects women.

Despite the prevalence of this age discrimination for women, statistics point to the strength of companies who encourage female seniors in their workforce. Analysis from the PR firm Weber Shandwick recently concluded that the world’s most reputable companies include more women in the C-Suite. Organizations with more women on a company’s board of directors also bring higher returns.

The benefits of a female-friendly, multigenerational workforce extend to every aspect of a business. As Bloomberg Business summarizes, “Manufacturers, retailers, and even legacy technology companies are rediscovering the value of older, more seasoned workers and are taking steps to keep them.”

Brooks Brothers offers a positive example for organizations hoping to reverse the trend. Their team hires veteran tailors for their New York factory — many of whom are women. Almost 20% of their workforce are 65 and over with an average tenure of 30 years. This exception is promising, but has yet to reverse the reality for the majority of experienced women in the workforce.