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Photo of Michelle Cohen Levy

Why are older female workers at a major workplace disadvantage?

On Behalf of | Nov 30, 2021 | Workplace Discrimination |

Women are generally at a disadvantage in many workplaces even though there are laws that protect them from harassment and discrimination.

When they are young, they may face intense sexual harassment from coworkers, clients or even supervisors. When they are in their twenties and thirties, management may overlook them for promotions because of an assumption they want to start a family rather than focus on their career.

Once a woman has several decades of experience in her field, she’ll be in a great position to assume a management role or otherwise move up within her company. Unfortunately, the strong internal biases that many people have regarding older women will affect the opportunity is available to a woman in her forties, fifties and beyond.

Lookism is a powerful force of sex discrimination

Lookism is the practice of judging a person’s value based on their appearance. Researchers have long upheld a strong correlation between how attractive people consider someone to be and their advancement opportunities and wages.

More attractive people are likely to receive more opportunities in business, and are also more likely to earn higher wages than their coworkers. Unfortunately, the way society judges a woman’s appearance largely has to do with how youthful she looks. Older men can still seem attractive to many people, but older women are largely viewed as distasteful.

When a woman displays signs of age and experience, people may find her less attractive and may therefore perceive her to be less pleasant and more abrasive. Ultimately, these changes in perception can limit what opportunities she receives in the workplace. At the same time that her male counterparts have countless opportunities available to them, she may find herself pressed firmly against a glass ceiling with nothing but her naturally aging appearance putting her at a disadvantage. 

Work performance should matter more than your appearance for employment decisions

Older women in the workplace face not just sexism which demands a performance of beauty from every woman but also ageism that views older people as worth less than younger people.

When your employer or a prospective future employer makes decisions about your future with their company, that decision should focus on your capabilities and work history, not on your appearance or your age. Recognizing lookism as a form of sex discrimination could help you fight back against unfair behaviors by employers.