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Is "Older and Wiser" Only True for Men?

Is "Older and Wiser" Only True for Men?

Age, Gender: older women may face double-jeopardy based

Barbara Reinhold | Monster Contributing Writer

Some experts say age discrimination can begin as early as when the worker turns 40. In 2001, outplacement firm Drake Beam Morin found that once workers reach their 50s, they might have to:

p.(1)Take twice as much time to find a new job. p.(2)Move from large corporate environments to smaller businesses. p.(3) Settle for a lower salary if they change jobs.

Like older workers, women are facing unique challenges. Studies suggest not only that their average earnings are less than men, but that they also hold far fewer management roles. At a March 2003 Conference Board session on women’s leadership, Fran Sussner Rodgers, CEO and Founder of WFD Consulting, said it would take about 60 years for men and women to reach parity on corporate boards.

The Challenges Add Up

How do these facts about age and gender fit together? Ever heard of potentiation — when one substance you’re taking into your body enhances or complicates another one’s effects? A similar reaction is happening now in the case of older women (that is, women over 50 or, in some instances, even in their 40s). Some employers imprint double negatives on older women employees.

Why the double negative? It’s a psychological phenomenon called “imprinting,” wherein we draw conclusions about what to expect of certain categories of people based on our experiences as children with people in these categories. When unchallenged, the imprinting can even determine how we’ll feel about ourselves later in life. For instance, if we saw our grandparents as frail and unhealthy, says researcher Ellen Langer of Harvard, then we are more likely to feel vulnerable and be unhealthy ourselves when we are our grandparents’ age.

Women who are now in their 50s and older have lived through a major paradigm shift in women’s expected personal and professional roles. When they and the people in charge of the organizations where they work were children, they were imprinted with more negative perceptions of older women’s vitality and professionalism, and not much has happened to counter those images.

In a December 2002 news release about the reasons why high-potential women are leaving corporate America, Molly Shepard, founder and principal of the Leader’s Edge, a coaching firm for executive women, reported that nearly 40 percent of 100 executive women, all of whom were making at least $150,000 a year, chose to leave because the culture was too inhospitable. “The findings of this study are compelling, especially given the executive talent shortage Corporate America is facing,” said Shepard in the release.

So what do we make of this situation for older career women? Does the deck appear to be stacked against them in terms of both age and gender? Unfortunately, yes. But are the shifting demographics likely to create new opportunities for skilled women to be taken seriously? Yes again. According to Roger Herman and the Herman Group, by 2010 we’ll have about 10 million more job openings than we have skilled and qualified people to fill them.

What Older Women Can Do

What should happen now? The best thing would be for women in their 40s, 50s and 60s to do a better job of reaching out and advising each other. Concerted outreach could enable more women to confront the negative imprinting which they and their male peers are probably carrying as well as encourage them to keep updating their skills so they’ll be ready to take advantage of the upcoming demographic changes.


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