Most people think of workplace age discrimination as affecting workers in their 50s and above. And companies refusing to hire or promote employees because they are “too old” is a huge problem in Washington State. But age discrimination can cut both ways.
Despite what seems like a youth-obsessed culture in the U.S., otherwise qualified job candidates regularly get rejected for being “too young,” while those with jobs get treated like children. This is confirmed by a new preliminary study published by Harvard Business Review, which found women under 40 report struggling to be taken seriously in their fields. One 39-year-old woman surveyed for the study reported being called pet names at work and literally being patted on the head by older co-workers.
Other women said managers often mistook them for working in lower positions like interns, trainees and personal assistants. Comments that a younger female worker “hadn’t lived” enough to know what they were talking about were common. According to the findings, women of color, even executives, who appeared younger than their true age were particularly vulnerable to this discrimination.
The psychological effects of ‘youngism’
Being patronized, ignored or passed over due to their actual or perceived youth — which the Harvard study called “youngism” — made many women surveyed for the study doubt their abilities, experience and qualifications. “You think, ‘It’s just me. I’m not old enough,” said one of the study’s researchers. “I haven’t served enough time in my career. Maybe my ideas aren’t that good” compared with older colleagues. In fact, as this study shows, youngism generally is about management’s biases against younger female workers and job applicants, not those individual’s skills or thoughts. Meanwhile, male workers of the same age often get jobs and promotions based on their potential.
Can I sue for age discrimination for being ‘too young?’
Unfortunately, state and federal age discrimination laws only protect workers over 40. However, the fact that women tend to be the victims of youngism could potentially make it the basis of a sex discrimination lawsuit. This is something to discuss with an employment law attorney.