In today’s rapidly evolving work landscape, issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion have taken center stage. The intersection of structural racism and ageism compounds the disadvantage experienced by historically marginalized communities. Structural racism and ageism have long been ingrained in all aspects of US society. These deeply rooted societal injustices have been brought to the forefront of the collective public consciousness at different points throughout history. The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare and exacerbated existing inequities inflicted on historically marginalized communities. Ageist rhetoric and policies during the COVID-19 pandemic further marginalized older adults.
While considerable progress has been made to address gender and racial biases in the workplace, a concerning aspect that often goes unnoticed is how these biases intersect with age, particularly affecting older workers. As individuals continue to work well beyond traditional retirement ages, understanding the dynamics of aging, gender, and racial biases becomes crucial in creating an equitable work environment for all.
The Changing Face of the Workforce
The global workforce is undergoing a significant transformation, with people working well into their 60s, 70s, and even 80s. By 2025, workers aged 55 or older will comprise 25%, or 41 million workers. This shift is driven by various factors such as increased life expectancy, changing retirement plans, and the desire to remain active and engaged in one’s career. However, as the workforce ages, older workers often encounter unique challenges that can be exacerbated by gender and racial biases.
Gender Biases and Older Workers
Gender biases are deeply entrenched in many aspects of society, and the workplace is no exception. When these biases intersect with age, older women often face compounded challenges. This phenomenon, often referred to as the “double jeopardy” effect, results in older women experiencing both ageism and sexism simultaneously. Older Americans, especially minorities and low-income women, disproportionately hold jobs that are low-income and low-pay, these jobs and are, disproportionately impacted by occupational segregation. This overrepresentation of a group of workers in a particular job category, has led to older workers, women, and workers of color being more vulnerable to layoffs, job separations, and reduced work hours before, during, and after the pandemic. Women are 80% more likely to live in poverty after age 65.
Older women frequently encounter reduced opportunities for career advancement, a lack of access to training and development opportunities, and wage disparities. The stereotype that associates older women with diminished skills and technology literacy can hinder their progress, despite their wealth of experience. This, in turn, perpetuates the notion that older women are less valuable or productive than their younger counterparts.
Racial Biases and Older Workers
Racial biases also play a pivotal role in shaping the experiences of older workers. People of color may encounter a unique set of challenges that intersect with ageism. Stereotypes about certain racial groups, coupled with ageist assumptions, can lead to discriminatory practices in hiring, promotions, and compensation.
Older workers of color often face the “invisible worker” phenomenon, where their contributions are overlooked or undervalued. Additionally, these workers may experience isolation and exclusion in predominantly white work environments, which can hinder their professional growth and well-being.
Creating an Inclusive Workplace
Addressing the impact of gender and racial biases on older workers requires a multifaceted approach from organizations, policymakers, and individuals alike. We can create a more equitable and inclusive workforce that recognizes and uplifts the strengths and potential of all individuals, regardless of their intersecting identities. Here are some strategies that can help create a more inclusive workplace for all ages, genders, and racial backgrounds:
Educate and Raise Awareness: Organizations should provide training to employees and managers about the intersectionality of age, gender, and race, fostering awareness of biases and their harmful effects. The most effective Unconscious Bias training does more than increase awareness of bias and its impact. It teaches attendees to manage their biases, change their behavior, and track their progress. It gives them information that contradicts stereotypes and allows them to connect with people whose experiences are different from theirs. And it’s not just a onetime education session; it entails a longer journey and structural changes to policies and operations—like the standardization of hiring processes, the elimination of self-assessments from performance reviews, and the institution of incentives for improving diversity. Rather than providing UB training as a check-the-box exercise, companies make a real, long-term commitment to it because they think it’s worthy and important.
Inclusive Policies: In the race to become more diverse, organizations across the globe are highlighting their diversity and inclusion credentials. But without inclusive policies, this is nothing more than lip-service. Develop and implement policies that ensure fair treatment and opportunities for all employees, regardless of age, gender, or race. Diversity and inclusion are essential for creating a work environment where employees feel valued, respected, and included. When employees feel that their differences are acknowledged and appreciated, they are more likely to be engaged in their work. A study by Deloitte found that inclusive teams are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, and inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovative leaders in their market. Learn more here.
Diverse Leadership: Encourage diverse representation at all levels of the organization, promoting a more inclusive culture. Companies with a racially and ethnically diverse leadership team are 35% more likely to outperform companies with little to no diversity at the senior level. Equal gender diversity has also been shown to have between a 15-21% impact on revenue compared to companies that heavily favor one gender.
Flexible Work Arrangements: Flexible work policies allow companies to broaden their prospective talent scope and improve the work experience for their existing employees of color, thus boosting retention and overall culture. Future Forum’s April 2022 pulse survey, which includes responses from over 10,000 knowledge workers in the U.S., France, Germany and other countries found that the desire for flexibility remains strongest among underrepresented groups. In the U.S., 81% of Hispanic/Latinx workers, 82% of Asian/Asian American and 79% Black workers prefer a hybrid of remote work arrangement compared to 77% of white workers.
As the workforce continues to age, it is imperative to recognize and address the intersectionality of age, gender, and racial biases. A truly inclusive workplace values the contributions of all employees, regardless of their background or age. By acknowledging and challenging biases, organizations can create an environment where older workers thrive, contribute, and lead alongside their younger counterparts, promoting a more equitable and prosperous future for everyone.