Here is a truth: Women are relevant at any age. But here's another, harder, truth: Society seems to devalue women as they age. And while ageism may seem like a far-off concept depending on just how old you are at this moment, the reality is that this form of discrimination is particularly insidious and sneaks into our lives on many levels. This most definitely includes the workplace — there are many ways ageism affects your job, some obnoxiously overt and others deceptively more subtle. It's important to recognize these, however, because in addition to the inherent flaws with this form of prejudice, ageism can impact a woman's career ... and even stop it in its tracks.
Ageism is a silly concept, and yet it manages to be an extremely pervasive and damaging issue in today's society. It robs women of their dignity as they grow older, devaluing us and making us feel as though worth is somehow inverse to age, with one going down as the other goes up. What a shame, right? Not only do women have plenty to contribute as they get older, but we have the added benefit of experience to pad our knowledge and skill sets. There's such beauty in growing older, but it can be hard to remember that when we're constantly being convinced otherwise.
In the workplace, ageism negatively impacts women in myriad ways and is inherently detrimental to our career growth (not to mention sense of self-worth). Here are a few of the ways ageism affects your job.
1. It Breaks Down Communication
Regardless of whether or not ageism is directed at you in the workplace, it makes it more difficult for you to effectively communicate with your peers. When an older coworker is consistently treated like they are incompetent to complete a task just because they do it different or aren't as digitally native with technology, it discourages them from seeking help or vocalizing their needs. Nobody wants to be the butt of a joke, right? The more they are made to feel like they don't fit in with the company culture, the more isolated they will be — thus leading to a breakdown in communication. You can't very well do your job to the best of your ability if you can't communicate with the people who also contribute to its success.
2. It Reinforces The Glass Ceiling
You hear about it in almost every aspect of the corporate world: women over 40 being passed over for promotion in favor of a younger person. Celebrities experience it in Hollywood just as executives experience in the board room. Depending on your age at the present time, it may not seem like something that affects you. However, it's basically a guarantee that at some point you'll be bumping your head against the glass ceiling, and it could very well be double-paned — a barrier simply for being a woman and a barrier for being a woman "of a certain age."
3. It Leads To Incisive (But Often Inaccurate) Comparisons
We all bring different strengths to the workplace, and our age bears little relevancy to these strengths. Yet, somehow, it seems to be a major basis of comparison at the office . For example, if two women work in an office together and the older of the two inadvertently sends out an email with a typo, it's likely her age will come into play and she will be sized up unfairly against her younger coworker — i.e. Younger Coworker is so much more adept at technology than Older Coworker. When, of course, it was merely a matter of an age-indiscriminate typo all along.
4. It Fosters Unfair Expectations — Not To Mention Self-Pressure
Do you ever go out to dinner or out for drinks after work? Sure, right? Have you ever given any thought to where your older coworker is when she doesn't join the girls for happy hour? There are a few possibilities. It is entirely possible that she has a family at home she is prioritizing. But it's also possible she's still at the office, pulling late hours in an attempt to prove to the superiors that she is still "relevant." One day, you'll feel the weight of this pressure bearing down on you too — by which you'll feel the need to put in O.T. at every opportunity or else be passed over for a newer model, so to speak.
5. It Robs You Of Valuable Peer-Building Benefits
When communication breaks down, as we discussed earlier, it leads to a company culture that isn't inclusive. And that lack of inclusivity is harmful to all women in the workplace. Not only does it alienate older women in the workplace, but it also deprives younger women of the wisdom and comraderie of their more experienced counterparts. I think we can all agree that's a no-win situation for all involved.
6. It Is Downright Counter-Productive
Seriously, though. The more time wasted on company politics and ineffectual communication, the less time you have to actually do your job. Ol' Honest Abe had the right idea when he said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Ageism, whether you are the target or unwittingly participating in it, wastes time and energy that could be doing a jam up job of something.