Women & Ageism

Reporting this piece cut very close to home — but it's important not to just take this story personally

My latest piece is out, on Women & Ageism in the Workplace (random capitalization for emphasis all mine), for Millie magazine. I’m delighted to see it became the cover story, because the sobering statistics within really must be read by all women — and all men and nonbinary, folk too. The pervasive underemployment of women who have crossed the 50-year mark is not just an outrage — it’s a massive economic tsunami in the making. Women are already at a huge disadvantage when it comes to retirement, since we earn less, our earnings peak earlier (at 40; men, ten years later), we have interrupted employment histories due to caregiving duties, and then we have the added joy of becoming unhireable after 50. Oh, and we live longer than men! And 50-plus women are more likely to be heading up solo households now more than ever. And a large percentage of women dig into their savings to support aging parents and their caregiving needs.

It’s a disaster.

I worked in women’s magazines, so I’m used to trying to find my cheery uplift in a story, but honestly, this one doesn’t have one. And it’s important that it doesn’t. Because we women tend to take on ageism with an apologetic tone: to try to age less visibly, to try to hide our age or not mention it, to downplay our years of experience. And I get it. I’ve been through years of not being considered for jobs for which I was overqualified (and am beyond grateful to now have a meaningful job where I can use my skills working with smart people who like my experience), when I was applying for those jobs because they were all that was available to me. (The double whammy of being an over-50 woman and having come from a business that cratered and torpedoed my marketplace value has been a doozy.)

But what we women — and men and nonbinary folk — need to be doing is making the case for experience, and wisdom, and collective learning. Workplaces perform better with age diversity. Our society will be more secure with workplace diversity, of all kinds.

So what do we do? Talk about it. Shout about it. Challenge it. If you’re in a position of power in a corporation, do what you can to get age added to Diversity & Inclusion programming and initiatives. Demand that your HR team bring you candidates over 50 for every single position they post jobs for. Check your own internal biases regarding wanting to discover and nurture a “wunderkind” and instead seek out the sequoias of the workplace: older, experienced women, who have been shown time and again in research to create a team environment where people feel more able to be transparent, empathetic and daring. (And those qualities lead to innovation, and innovation leads to $$$ for everyone, theoretically.)

And if nothing else? Read and share this article widely. This isn’t about how women look (though it plays a role). This is about securing the economic future of not only millions upon millions of women (and the people they take care of), but of our entire country. We have many downward forces setting us up for disenfranchisement and poverty in elder populations that we have never seen before. And women are half of that story.

Thanks for reading, considering, learning and sharing.