Age Is A Barrier For Women At Workplaces: Here’s How To Overcome It

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While gender is seen as a barrier, gender compounded with age is even a bigger challenge for women to overcome. Society never misses a beat to tell older women that there is only so much they can achieve and should be achieving. But isn’t age just a number? Why must women let it become an impediment when it is instead a checkpoint that can lead to newer paths of success?

SheThePeople’s 40 Over 40 Awards is trying to remove precisely that barricade. Celebrating women over the age of 40 who have achieved, reinvented themselves, and claimed their space under the spotlight, we are seeking to recognise the talent and spirit that drives so many women forward today.

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Women As Caregivers Or Breadwinners?

It came as a shock to many when a 2019 report concluded that ageism, not sexism, was the top reason for women to be dissatisfied with their success at the workplace. The survey by Riveter found that “58 percent of the women surveyed said that they thought their identities and/or physical attributes impact their experiences at work.” Out of this, the biggest contributor in the pie was the age factor, comprising 25 percent. Close to 21 percent workers over 40, Quartz reported, said they faced age-related discrimination. Older women generally receive lesser job opportunities or space for growth at workplaces, according to the research.

Much of it has to do with women being seen as caregivers in the world, not breadwinners. Manisha Girotra, leading business executive,says, “It’s a life conversation that stays for women throughout every age. 20s, 30s, and 40s. How sustainable is her career going to be? Should we invest? Because in a patriarchal society, a woman is seen as a caregiver. Jobs are seen as secondary. I have heard from my own male colleagues say, “Another 2 years, she’ll go away.'”

Sonu Bhasin, one of the senior most business executives in India, corroborates it saying, “A woman has to constantly prove to the world – (offices, colleagues, etc.) that she’s not going to go away.” And does this really come as a surprise? Because the corporate sector in India is still testosterone-populated with workspaces designed primarily for men. The recent furore over menstrual leaves, which many said was unfair in the fight for equal pay, was evidence of that.

Watch the panel here: 


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Why Age Becomes A Hurdle On The Road To Success

Age, and certain other parameters that are definitive of men’s careers are often precisely what reverses women’s. For instance, a middle-aged man in his 40s going to work daily is seen as the ideal male member of the family. He is lauded for his pursuit of success, even as he greys. But his female counterpart – a woman in her 40s – going to work in a corporate zone, even taking up leadership roles, is seen as an “absent” mother, daughter, or daughter-in-law. This is not the kind of high-powered agenda she should have at her age, she is told. Does she really need to impart attention anywhere except her household? Doesn’t her ageing physicality warrant a more sedate, house-bound lifestyle?

All this and more is what makes women feel guilty about working out of doors. But they shouldn’t. Expounding upon similar biases she overcame, author and writing coach Sudha Menon says, “Right up to my mid-40s, I spent time not feeling good about myself. Then something dramatic happened. I hit 45 and then on started taking control of my feelings. Yes, I may have a jelly-belly and three chins, but this is who I am.

Adding to that, Milee Ashwarya, Publisher at Ebury Publishing and Vintage Groups, Penguin Random House India says, “I think the 40s is the most interesting decade, where you start thinking about yourself a bit more. This is the age when you really discover yourself again. Being independent becomes a habit, it’s a good feeling. It gives us confidence as women.”

Watch the panel here: 


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How To Break Down The Age Barrier?

Breaking down the barrier of age, that has been in place for women since time immemorial, is not going to be easy. But the revolution has begun bubbling, and it is women themselves, who are leading the conversation on this. Financial independence, as many working women over 40 have identified, is one of the key points that can help in empowerment today. When this box is ticked off, that is when the real work to topple the walls of age will begin. And this is an issue that needs to be addressed at the workplace itself, with a mutual understanding of the employee and employer.

Girotra elaborates, “We need to make women feel comfortable at the workplace. If she wants to leave at half-day to attend a parent-teacher meeting, she should. We can’t forget we have families,” bringing notice to the fact that a healthy work-life balance is what every woman – rather, every working individual – needs today.

Bhasin adds to that saying, “The central thing is women believing in themselves and understanding they are no less than anybody else. I am me and I am capable of doing what I am. There has to be a compromise between the employee and the employer. It is a conversation that needs to get started. But not only for women. The problem cannot be seen only as a woman’s problem. The men have to be a part of the conversation.”

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