Employers who claim they’re experiencing a worker shortage are ignoring a giant, untapped pool of talent

A woman is seen working from home.
A woman working from home. Getty
  • Due to gendered ageism, companies don’t recognize that they have a pool of talented women to hire.
  • Now is the time for companies to acknowledge the wisdom and experience women over 50.
  • Bonnie Marcus is an award-winning entrepreneur and executive coach.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

Burned out Gen Z’s and Millennials are leaving the workforce for many reasons, many of those reasons are pandemic related. Working remotely, trying to balance the stress of holding on to jobs along with domestic responsibilities has led to not only burnout but mental health issues and a serious re-evaluation of what they want and need from their employers.

This mindset is now apparent across all generations of workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report this week showing that Americans are quitting their jobs at a record pace. The amount of people quitting their jobs jumped from 4.3 million in August to the equivalent of nearly 3% of the workforce. The result is an unprecedented level of resignations and retirements. This combination of departures, forced or voluntary, has left companies with a low employment rate and a challenge to find qualified workers.

However, there may be an easy fix.

According to my recent research, there is an untapped talent pool of highly qualified women, aged 45 to 50 and above, who are available and eager to keep working. So why are companies pushing these women out and not leveraging their talent and experience?

The answer is gendered ageism – the intersectionality of gender bias and ageism – which affects women as they approach 50 and beyond and show visible signs of ageing. This pervasive bias results in women in this age demographic being perceived as less valuable and competent, and contributes to their marginalization and subsequent premature dismissal.

The older, the wiser

To better understand the implications of gendered ageism in the workplace, I recently surveyed 729 women between the ages of 18 and 70+, with 65% of respondents from the United States and the majority of the remainder from Canada, the UK and Europe.

80% of those surveyed said they experienced some form of gendered ageism, and 7.5% of the women reported that they are currently unemployed. Of those women who are unemployed, 9 out of 10 were fired or laid off, forced to retire due to their age. 54% percent have been unemployed longer than a year, and 95% of those over 53, including those 65-70, say they want and need to work.

In fact, more than half of these women report they don’t have enough money to retire. But when asked about their chances of continuing to work, 28% of women 59-65 stated their chances to continue to work as “poor” or “fair” with the most common reason being as “my company doesn’t value older workers”.

Why do companies continue to ignore the value of women, especially women over 50, especially now when they are in need of qualified workers? Companies need to take off their blinders and recognize that part of the solution for their low employment rate is right under their noses. In fact, it is their bias that prevents them from leveraging the talent they currently have. Qualified women over 50 want and need to continue to work and possess a wealth of talent and experience to help their organizations move forward.

What does it take to retain and support women over 50? Sometimes the answer is as simple as asking.

When I asked women what actions they would like to see their company take, here’s how they responded:

61% want gendered ageism to be recognized as a DEI issue. 54% want the company to acknowledge the accomplishments of older women. 49% would like their company to facilitate cross-generational networking. 49% would like gendered ageism to be included in mandated unconscious bias training. 48.4% would like their company to assess the policies and workplace practices around hiring, compensation and promotion. And 47% want their company to create a safe environment for them to discuss their experiences with gendered ageism.

For any of this to happen, companies must first acknowledge there is an underlying issue of gendered ageism that continues to push qualified women out of the workforce. This bias needs to be addressed at every level of the organization starting with senior leadership. Currently, ageism, and particularly gendered ageism, is not on most companies’ DEI radar. According to PwC, only 8% of companies include age in their D&I strategies.

There are larger economic implications as well. AARP released a study in 2018 that found bias against workers age 50 and older reduced the nation’s gross domestic product by an estimated $US850 ($AU1,159) billion in 2018. The study also found that age discrimination may have contributed to $US545 ($AU743) billion in lost wages and salaries for older workers that year. By 2050, the annual loss could amount to $US3.9 ($AU5) trillion.

Bottom line, when people want to work – in this case qualified women over 50 and are unable to keep their job or get re-hired, the result is lost revenue and lost talent. Fix gendered ageism and you can fix your company’s high unemployment rate.