I had heard about age discrimination, but I didn’t really think it existed until I experienced it personally, about eight years ago.
I had been researching career options for myself, and arranged to meet with a peer in financial planning who was a partner at a local RIA. His firm was looking for new financial planners, and I was looking to move from the firm where I was working as a senior wealth advisor. This peer and I had first met several years prior at an industry event and we shared mutual friends. After sharing that I’d like to be considered for a role at his firm, he told me I was too old for his firm (we were both in our early 50s).
He told me that he and his colleagues were looking for younger advisors, and didn’t I want to retire soon anyway?
I really didn’t know how to react. I was so taken aback, frankly horrified, that I was now considered “too old” and that my age was dictating whether I would be considered for a job, or not. This was when I knew ageism was real.
And this is one of the reasons I decided to launch my own financial planning firm. While it had not been my intent, I eventually decided that by running my own firm I could control my professional destiny.
However, not everyone who experiences ageism is cut out for or has the opportunity to run their own business.
‘No longer welcome or needed’
Not long after I launched my financial planning and investment management firm, WealthChoice, a client of mine reached out suddenly to meet for cocktails after work. When I arrived at the restaurant she was crying. Turns out, she was being let go from her company where she held a senior role in management and had for many years. Her employer, a media company, had been acquired. The new owners came for a visit and informed the employees that they would be making changes to the staff. They mentioned that they wanted a younger team; older employees were no longer welcome or needed.
My client, 59 at the time, was considered old and expendable, and subsequently let go. And she was not financially prepared to be thrust into retirement.
Too young for Medicare, she needed healthcare coverage. She also had expenses we needed to cover. Our focus became addressing the biggest financial issues and we spent a good amount of time on what her income options were.
My client came up against more ageism when looking for a new job and she became incredibly frustrated. Ultimately, she used her situation as an opportunity to pivot professionally. She wound up taking a job that paid significantly less at a company that provided exceptional benefits. She found that she really enjoyed work that was less stressful than her high-powered professional job and afforded more life balance, even though she sacrificed pay and prestige. This client was able to positively navigate ageism, though it cost her financially.
‘Lookism’ is ageism’s ugly companion
I also still vividly remember a conversation I had several years ago with a female business colleague in IT. She was the chief technology officer at a very successful publicly held company and looking for a new position. To remain relevant in an industry that clearly favored young professionals, this woman had a facelift. She truly felt she needed to appear young to be considered relevant. This, coming from an accomplished woman, was remarkable.
The global non-profit Catalyst calls this “lookism,” which is the importance of looking young and attractive. Lookism affects women financially and mentally.
Ageism, my friends, is alive and well.
In fact, a recent study by AARP shows about two-thirds of workers 50 and over believe age discrimination exists in the workplace.
The vast majority of the financial-services professionals surveyed by WerkLabs (85%) reported experiencing ageism. On their heels were professionals in advertising & marketing (84%) and tech (81%). Ageism occurs least often in healthcare & pharmaceuticals and education, according to the study, which surveyed men and women.
Ageism is also illegal, but that doesn’t seem to stop it from happening.
Further, ageism can have financial consequences, as well as significant mental health consequences. In mid-August, a 64-year-old male financial advisor filed a civil action with his employer, Wells Fargo, for alleged age and race discrimination, which he said resulted in him being denied financial benefits, career advancement opportunities, income and client assignments.
Women can be especially vulnerable
The challenge of ageism can be particularly difficult for women who often face other gender-related financial issues. For example, many women take time off work to raise children and care for aging parents. Women also tend to live longer than men, and have higher health care costs later in life. And pay disparity means that when they are in the workforce, they are often paid less than men for the same position. Taking themselves out of the workforce for any reason lowers the amount earned and saved, which means less money set aside and invested for retirement. Add to this the challenge of ageism and it is clear women should be planning well in advance of mid-life to be financially secure.
As financial planners we should focus on making sure our professional women have a financial plan in place that addresses the challenge of ageism. Many women ages 50 and older are being pushed out of their professions, often fueled by “lookism.” We need to make sure our female and male clients have a plan in place to weather a financial storm should they suddenly find themselves unemployed or underemployed.
Bridget Grimes, CFP®, is the president of WealthChoice, a boutique financial life planning firm for women executives, and co-founder of Equita Financial Network, a collaboration of women-led financial planning firms. She is also author of the bestseller “Corner Office Choices: The Executive Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom.” She believes in empowering women through education, collaboration and support so that they have the confidence to take action for a better life. Bridget can be reached at email@example.com.