Many older workers aren’t exactly reveling in their seniority on the job; their years of experience and expertise seems to earn resentment, not respect. In fact, many mid-lifers and beyond sense that their younger colleagues want their jobs—and that management wants them out (possibly due to the higher salary they’ve built up over the years).
New research reveals that men seem to bear more of the brunt of this kind of negative energy. In a study recently published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Ashley Martin, Ph.D., an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and colleagues Michael S. North, Ph.D., of New York University and Katherine W. Phillips, Ph.D., of Columbia University, found that older, assertive men have the toughest road. They encounter the highest level of what the researchers call “agency proscription” — which means pressure to not assert themselves but to let younger people rise right on past them. Interestingly, older women who were assertive were not demonized as much since they weren’t seen as much of a threat.
Ageism in the Workplace: The Double Bind
However you slice it, this isn’t sounding good to us, but it is worth a closer look to understand workplace dynamics. The researchers say that because women belong to two groups that are often discriminated against (women and those 50+), they may get a “pass” and be able to avoid being targeted. Martin calls this an “intersectional escape,” which happens when two stereotypes clash (that’s the intersection), and the people who represent both of those stereotypes can avoid biases (that’s the escape).
Interestingly, older women who were assertive were not demonized as much since they weren’t seen as much of a threat.
Martin suggests that when the younger generation thinks of older workers being an obstacle to their own success, they tend to imagine older men. “Because women aren’t the dominant category of that group of older people, they escape some of the negative penalties that older men face,” she said.
While this research may sound depressing, Martin sees a silver lining. She said to older women who feel they are being discriminated against on the job, “It gets better. You’re probably going to have more influence as time goes on.” But if you can’t wait and see, check out this guide from AARP about how to fight back.