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YNHHS forum focuses on ageism in the workplace

A recent virtual forum featuring panelists from around Yale New Haven Health System focused on ageism in the workplace – particularly how it affects female employees. 

The discussion, the second in a series on “Generations Working Together,” was sponsored by the Health Services Corporation Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council. The forum included a robust conversation about ageism’s social aspects, challenges and negative impacts on women in the workplace.

Panelists included Marna Borgstrom, YNHHS CEO; Jamie Sullivan, strategic operations manager, Finance; Maryann Calabrese, chaplain, Spiritual Care; Amber Burton, senior contract specialist, CSC Strategic Sourcing; Yvania Collazo, patient finance access specialist; and moderator Ena Williams, RN, Yale New Haven Hospital senior vice president and chief nursing officer. 

Statistics reported by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) indicate that 64 percent of workers have witnessed or experienced age discrimination. What does ageism look like? According to the panelists, it spans the generations. A 28-year-old female CPA might be told she is “too young” to be a controller. A job candidate in her 50s could hear that the company is looking for a recent college graduate “with a lot of energy.”  

“Younger women are often viewed as naïve or untrained. People make assumptions about their lack of knowledge,” said Burton. “But older women are often overlooked because of assumptions that they are not as technologically advanced as younger people out of college.” 

Although ageism can go both ways, most complaints and studies have focused on the experience of those over 50. Calabrese pointed out that older workers often field questions that reflect a bias, such as “Are you comfortable working with younger staff?” or “How much longer do you plan to work?” as well as comments about being “overqualified” for a position. 

The discussion also touched on the difficulty of separating ageism and sexism. “In the early years of my career, I got numerous questions about my intentions for the future. Would I get married or have kids? Would I come back to work after maternity leave? Could I work late hours or did I have to leave to get the kids from day care? These questions were not ever asked of my male colleagues,” Sullivan said.  

When asked for suggestions on improving the experience for women in workplace, panelists were unanimous in recommending strong female leaders in top positions who can be role models and mentors.  

“As we become more senior in our roles, we have a responsibility to help others build their careers, while also acknowledging that we have personal lives that need to be kept in balance, ” Borgstrom said. “Sometimes work needs to come first and sometimes we need to take our foot off the gas to allow our ‘batteries to recharge.’” 

Williams also urged attendees to strive for inclusion. “All of us want to see others who look like us. It’s important to have representation for others.” 

Watch a recording of the ageism discussion.