Many companies love to tout the success of their Diversity and Inclusions programs. Glassdoor publishes an annual list of the Top 20 companies with diversity programs. Fortune partnered with A Great Place to Work to 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 Diversity study found that “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 percent more 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 services for 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.
Women over 50 are a powerful force in purchasing power. In 2016, Visa reported that consumers over 50 account for more than half of U.S. spending. The aging consumer market is emerging, according to Barron’s, as “the mother of all untapped markets.” In 2015, the world’s population over 65 was at a historical high of over 600 million people. The UN projected that this number would hit a full billion by 2030 and 1.6 billion by 2050.
The aging population is a fast-growing consumer market, and women in this demographic hold the purse strings. Who better represents this target market than the women who are in it? It doesn’t make sense only to have millennials designing your products and services for this customer base. At the same time, it doesn’t make sense to have just boomer women either. All voices and opinions at the table in a collaborative environment are essential to meet the needs of today’s consumer.
Companies are missing out by ignoring older women
Let’s not forget the obvious reasons why companies can benefit from hiring older women. There’s their wealth of experience and network that younger employees have yet to develop. And as Fast Company’s Eillie Anzilotti previously reported, when a company’s workforce is diverse in every aspect—including age—they can collaborate “to produce innovative business solutions.” Research also shows that “higher rates of employed elderly people generally denote strong economic circumstances—which correspond with more jobs for younger workers,” Anzilotti wrote.
Companies need to acknowledge the biased assumptions they make about older women and assess how their culture supports these assumptions at all levels of the organization. When companies push older women out the door, all that wisdom and experience exits with them—and those are the wisdoms and experiences that can help organizations be successful.
Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed., is an executive coach and author of The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead. Marcus is currently writing a book about women over 50 in the workplace.