Age discrimination against older women has been widely discussed in the media. The assumption is that ageism applies mostly to older women however this is not necessarily the case. A 2011 report from the UK’s Department for Work and Pension (DWP) highlighted that those who experienced age discrimination were more likely to be in younger age brackets, “with under-25s at least twice as likely to have experienced it, than other age groups.” This has significant implications on our future female leaders – “Generation Y,” also known as “millennials.”
According to the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, 40 percent of Generation Y women reported experiencing generational discrimination. The report stated, “Being female tended to intensify age prejudice and ‘double jeopardy’ was reinforcing rather than simply additive.” The report also found that both forms of discrimination –age and gender – led to female millennials being held to different standards, passed over for promotions, and most disturbingly, being perceived as less competent.
What is the impact on the future workforce if some of its future leaders are faced with at least two layers of barriers in the early stages of their careers? Moreover, if female millennials are part of the pipeline of future female leaders, what initiatives are focused on ensuring that ten years from now we still are not looking at such a heavy tilt towards male leaders as the norm?
After all, we have seen that investing in women in senior manager roles is clearly beneficial; Catalyst found a 26 percent difference in return on invested capital (ROIC) between the top-quartile companies (those with 19-44 percent female board representation) and bottom quartile companies (those with zero female directors). With this in mind, organisations have introduced a number of initiatives to increase gender diversity, targeted especially at their senior management teams.
The good news is that female millennials are starting on a more equal footing with their male counterparts. The Pew Research Center published its 2013 survey results which reflected the narrowing of the gender wage gap. Although millennials are more confident in their abilities compared to previous female cohorts –and only 15 percent of those surveyed had experienced gender discrimination – they were still less likely to aspire to top management positions in their organisations. Compared to 24 percent of Generation Y men who showed no interest in top management roles, 34 percent of the female millennials surveyed shared the same sentiment. If over one-third of the world’s potential female leaders have no desire to be a leader within the organisation, surely something needs to change.