As a member of the hiring committee of a nonprofit’s board of trustees, I recently worked with an executive search firm to fill a CEO vacancy in the organization. The search firm representative asked us if we wanted to screen out women over fifty from the candidate pool. We were surprised and asked, “Why would we?” The reply was, “Most of our clients won’t consider hiring women over fifty, and we don’t want to waste your time or ours by including them if you want us to screen them out.” Wow! This question was asked quietly, since it is illegal to discriminate based on age, but it was asked because this dynamic is so prevalent.
Men are considered to be viable employees at older ages than women. Ashton Applewhite of the New York Times cites a 2016 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research that “found ‘robust’ evidence that age discrimination in the workplace starts earlier for women and never relents.” Applewhite explains that ageism, or discrimination based on age, “is the result of a network of attitudes and institutional practices.” In other words, it is baked into our social and workplace cultures that women over fifty are not valued.
Sally Koslow, writing for the New York Times, cites a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that nearly half — 48.8 percent — of women aged fifty-five to sixty-four are among the long-term unemployed. These numbers reflect the desire of older women to work but their difficulty in getting hired. Many older women want to work not only because they enjoy it but also because they often need to work. Koslow reports that, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, “women are 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished at age sixty-five and older.”
Why should you hire a woman over fifty? Applewhite suggests the following considerations:
- Older workers can bring deep knowledge, well-honed interpersonal skills, better judgment, and a more balanced perspective to the workplace.
- Older workers represent a wealth of productive and creative potential that is a source of social capital that should not be wasted.
- Not one negative stereotype about older workers holds up under examination. Research shows that older workers are reliable, handle stress well, master new skills, and are the most engaged workers when offered the chance to grow and advance.
- Older workers might take longer to do a task, but they make fewer mistakes.
- It is a myth that older workers crowd out younger ones. Economists have debunked this “lump of labor” fallacy many times.
What changes can we make to open more employment opportunities for older women? Let’s be clear that ageism and an overemphasis on youth culture in our country are deeply engrained. Nonetheless, we can bring about change by not buying into the myth that some women are too old to do certain jobs or learn new skills. We can make friends of all ages and point out age bias when we see it. Most importantly, though, we need to join forces and speak up about the issue of ageism. We need to challenge the assumptions about older women as workers and hire older women when we are managers. Our board of trustees hired a woman over fifty for our vacant CEO position, and she brought a wide range of experience and contacts to our organization that proved to be quite valuable.
What ways can you influence the hiring of an older woman worker? What successes have you experienced with older workers? Let us hear from you.
Anne Litwin, Ph.D. is an Organizational Development and Human Resources Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together.’
Originally published at www.annelitwin.com on October 23, 2017.