Many companies love to tout the success of their Diversity and Inclusions programs. Glassdoor publishes an annual list of the Top 20 companieswith diversity programs. Fortune partnered with A Great Place to Workto create a list of the best workplaces for diversity. There are many more lists like this, but according to PwC, only 8% of these companies include age in their D&I strategies.
The reality is, companies don’t give ageism the same attention as other forms of bias. D&I initiatives rarely address the intersectionality of ageism and sexism, and there isn’t a lot of focus in gendered ageism for women. In a survey by Forbes Insights, more than 300 senior executives from large global companies—32% who were in HR or talent management—reported on their ‘companies’ diversity and inclusion priorities. Just 28% said managing the cross-generational issues was a focus, and that gender diversity programs were the most common.
Age discrimination is alive and well
According to AARP research, nearly two out of three workers in the United States over the age of 45 experienced or witnessed age discrimination. Fifty-five percent say discrimination starts in their 50s. And research from the EEOC shows that women over 50 experience it earlier than their male colleagues. As women show visible signs of aging in a society that emphasizes the importance of beauty and youth, they’re perceived as less competent and less valuable in the workplace. These assumptions—often unchallenged—form the basis of decision-making about hiring, firing, and promoting. As a result, older women are diminished, marginalized, and pushed out. It happens every single day, but it’s not on most people’s radar. That’s because companies often disguise these terminations as downsizing, consolidation, and other reasons to mask the unfairness and potential legal liability.
Why gendered ageism initiatives are important
Many of the same arguments supporting the importance of gender diversity hold true for age. There’s a strong business case for a workforce that brings different experiences, skills, and ideas as well as mindsets to the table. Plenty of research illustrates the correlation between diverse teams, innovation, and profitability. McKinsey’s recent Delivering through Diversitystudy found that “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 percentmore likely to experience above-average profitability.”
Gender equity provides the advantage of different perspectives, opinions, and ideas that women bring to the table. Women help companies better meet the needs of their customer base. The female point of view is critical for the design of products and servicesfor the entire population—not just for men. And as Shelley Zalis, CEO of the Female Quotient, previously told Fast Company‘s Lydia Dishman, women influence more than 85% of all purchasing decisions.