HomeLearning CenterFor Women, There’s Never a Right Age to Lead, Survey Finds

For Women, There’s Never a Right Age to Lead, Survey Finds

Originally published by Dora Mekouar for VOA

Women are never the right age for leadership in the workplace, according to new research that finds a woman is often judged as too young and inexperienced, too busy with her children, or past her prime as she advances through middle age.

The research, published in the Harvard Business Review, examines how age bias is used to justify discrimination against women. Researchers surveyed 913 female leaders in four U.S. industries: higher education, faith-based nonprofits, law and health care.

“No age was the right age to be a woman leader,” Amy Diehl, a gender equity researcher and one of the co-authors of the report, told VOA via email. “They go from being perceived as too young to too old in an instant.”

Female leaders under 40 were often mistaken for support staff.

“Some were called diminishing pet names, like ‘missy’ or ‘kiddo,’” Diehl said. “Credibility deficit was another problem — women of color especially noted this. They had learned to introduce themselves with a summary of their resume just so they would be believed.”

Women between the ages of 40 and 60 were viewed as having too many family responsibilities, as well as being too difficult to manage. Menopause was also used as an excuse not to hire older women, according to Diehl.

Meanwhile, women over 60 were seen as too close to retirement to promote, so it wasn’t worth investing in their professional development.

“Gendered ageism seems to be one of the remaining socially acceptable ways to discriminate overtly against women,” Leanne Dzubinski, a report co-author and professor of leadership at the Asbury Theological Seminary, said via email.

While men in their 40s and 50s are generally seen as having the breadth of experience that puts them at the top of their game, women at the same stage in their career are usually viewed much differently, according to Amber Stephenson, a report co-author and professor of management at Clarkson University in New York.

“Being perceived as less competent or less valuable to the organization, less innovative, not promotable, or less capable of assuming leadership responsibilities,” Stephenson said via email.

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