Helping Women Over 50 Combat Ageism in the Workplace

Ageism in the Workplace is a Reality for Women Over 50

If you are a woman between the ages of 50 and 70, you have undoubtably encountered the stigma of aging both in your personal and professional life.  Age discrimination is still an ongoing problem for women in most jobs or professions.  Even though it is illegal in the US, it still happens regularly.

According to a recent AARP survey that included both men and women, nearly 80% of older employees say that they have either witnessed or experienced age discrimination.

Dealing with Ageism in both our personal and professional life is annoying, and it fuels our anger and resentment at the outmoded stereotype that still exists in our society.

The idea that as women age we are no longer viewed as valuable, worthwhile, or competent is an attitude that refuses to completely die, even though it is being challenged everyday as women continue to evolve and create and contribute to our families, our communities, and our professions in meaningful ways throughout our lives.

Some Examples of Age Discrimination in your Workplace

Have you been passed over for a promotion you were expecting and know that you are qualified for?

Have you seen younger colleagues promoted over you?

Has your workload been curtailed and given to others to manage?

Do you feel left out of the loop in some situations?

Do your colleagues no longer seem to value your input?

Have you been given a poor employee evaluation?

Have your male colleagues begun to ignore you?

Do you feel uncomfortable in some way when you are at work?

The above list are just some examples of what you might encounter when you are being viewed as less valuable and less important in your place of employment.  Every situation is different but taking note of any change in your status or the way you are treated in your position is a clue that you need to pay attention to.

Strategies to Deal with Ageism When You Begin to Feel it Affecting You:

Take a Look at Yourself and Your Own Attitudes about Aging: I suggest that you become aware of the negative ideas you might have internalized about your own aging process and how those attitudes might be affecting you currently in your professional life.

If  you think of yourself as being less effective and maybe less competent, and feel you have less to contribute because of your age, it will eventually affect your work performance.

That idea will have a negative impact on how you view yourself as a valuable employee and perhaps even as a valuable person as you age.

Women who view themselves and their aging in a more positive light tend to be more active and productive and to experience better health and energy, which in turn makes them more appealing and more likely to extend their professional lives.

Focus on the Areas Where You Can Still Grow and Learn: Make it clear to your supervisor that you intend to remain a valuable employee in your company after age 50.  Let them know that you still have a lot to contribute and want to continue to be a productive employee.

It is good to have a face to face talk with your supervisor to let him/her know of your intentions to remain in the company and and to work together to map out a career path for the next several years.

Make a request to take training courses to learn new skill sets in your field of expertise. It’s important that your employer knows that you are committed to continuing your education to enhance your value and input as an employee.

These are the things that support your success in staying relevant and up to date.

Be aware that over the course of your career you have gained a wealth of wisdom and experience that remains important and useful in the present. You bring strategic value and expertise to your profession from the decades of work you have put in during your career.

Don’t be afraid to speak up about your knowledge and experience and let your employer know that your are committed to continuing your contributions to the Company. State your opinions and ideas in meetings.  Don’t remain silent.

A great way to remain relevant is volunteer to Mentor younger employees.  Let everyone know that you are available to develop a relationship with a younger employee to share you skills and expertise.  You can continue to add value by becoming the person that younger employees seek out for help and guidance.

Be Prepared to address incidents of Bias and Discrimination in your Workplace: Don’t ignore the slights or outright incidences of ageism in your work environment.  Speak up when you feel like you are being talked down to or pushed aside when attempting to do your job.

However, be careful how you address these issues.  By not becoming defensive or accusatory you’re more likely to get a positive response when you bring up the issue. Be assertive but not confrontational.

For example:  If you are offered help when you are performing a work task or project that you are perfectly able to handle, it is better to just state politely that you do not need help and that you can handle the task yourself.

Another common situation that you should address involves what colleagues, especially men call you.  If you are being called “honey”or “dear” or some other pet name, you have a right to object and politely state that you prefer to be called by your actual name.  If you say this in a direct but non confrontational way, the message has a more powerful impact and will likely be taken seriously by your colleague.

As women it is important that we learn to advocate for ourselves when we are being treated as “less than” in both our professional as well as our personal lives.

Consider Reporting any Incidence of Age Discrimination:  It’s important that you keep a record of any incidents of age discrimination that you experience and then make a decision whether or not to report them to the appropriate Department, usually HR.  It takes courage to report these issues, but until more women speak up the longer it will take to produce meaningful change.

However, be aware that it might not result in any action taken if your employer does not take this issue seriously. But it is still important to report it.

If you feel strongly that your complaints are not being taken seriously in your workplace you have the option of filing a complaint with the EEOC, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  This is a serious step and should not be taken before consulting with an Attorney. It is illegal for your supervisor to penalize you for contacting the EEOC, but that retaliation still occurs.

One of the Most Powerful Ways to Fight Ageism is to NOT hide who you are: As long as you pretend that you are younger than you actually are, you contribute to the discrimination that you are fighting to eradicate.

Being proud of your age and your continued competence in your profession sends a powerful message to those who want to disregard you and marginalize you.

What to Do If You Are Fired or Laid Off:

woman on couching Ageism in the Workplace

Sadly it does happen to some of us in this stage of our life and career.  You are not alone.

After you get over the shock, the anger, the sense of failure, and the sense of loss, pick yourself up and begin to figure out your next move.  Don’t stay too long in the place of feeling defeated and dejected!  It won’t help you!

A famous saying is “When one door closes, another one opens.”  I don’t believe another door automatically opens.  It only opens when you decide to open it and move on to another challenge and adventure.

Think about your options: Do you want to continue in a career in some fashion?  Do you want to look for another position in another company?  Have you thought of starting your own business or some other venture?  This is the time to think about the possibilities for reinventing yourself and then take action!

Some women decide it is time to step back from the demands of a career and seek out a lifestyle change that involves discovering a new purpose or a new way of living.

However, many women either have no desire to end their careers at this time, or they continue to need an income. Whatever the reason, it requires a major commitment of time and energy to begin the search for another full time position.

The truth is it is often difficult to find employment during our 50’s and 60’s that meets our level of competence and provides a decent income.

It’s time to get out your resume and polish it up and start the hunt for a new position in a company that will appreciate you and what you have to offer.

Hopefully your job search does lead to a position in a company that values your contribution and experience and is willing to compensate you for your years of experience.  This is a definite possibility, so don’t give up your search too quickly.

However, if your search for a new position does not result in finding that job, there is another option to consider.

Begin to think about starting your own small business or other professional venture.  Many women who have been downsized or laid off  go on to become successful entrepreneurs and businesswomen:  It is not for everyone, but if you have a desire to learn more about starting your own business, there are many resources to give you help and guidance, both online and in books. Your public library will have many books on starting a business to choose from. And the internet is full of articles and blogs to help entrepreneurs begin the process of becoming their own boss.  This is an article that might be helpful.

Let your imagination take over and look at all the possibilities and all the things that interest you.  Then consider whether those ideas could be the groundwork for a business venture.  Have faith in your own abilities!  And remember “You are not too old, and it is not too late!”

And if you get stuck and need help figuring out how to move forward in this next stage, I hope you will consider hiring a Life Coach to help you on your journey.  (I’m always available.) To contact me for a FREE phone consultation click  here

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