Although many employers discriminate against young women in the hiring process due to real or imputed family responsibilities, older women also face significant discrimination in the job market. Age specifications, another prominent aspect of job advertising, further serve to adversely impact the participation of women in the labor force. The majority of employers seek young applicants under thirty or under forty. While age limits appear in advertisements for both men and women, these restrictions have a disproportionate impact on women’s participation in the work force. The majority of jobs advertised for women, such as secretaries, caregivers, dancers, and waitresses, are culturally associated with young women almost exclusively. Thus, older women face a double bind: they cannot access many jobs, including well-compensated, management positions, because of gender restrictions, nor can they access the majority of jobs available to women because of age restrictions. Yet, not all young women can access jobs advertised for or available to women either, due to marital and family status discrimination. The result of these restrictions at both ends of the age spectrum is a very narrow window within which a woman is perceived as a serious work candidate: under thirty-five, but with children of school age.
As is apparent from the vacancy announcements discussed in the Gender Specifications in Job Advertising section above, age discrimination in job advertisements is common and widespread. Some employers also set boundaries as to the lower limit of acceptable age, most often twenty or twenty-five, but sometimes as old as thirty. Employers often view older job seekers as unqualified for the demands of the post-transition economy and many older employees find it difficult to return to school or find training to give them new skills. While employment advertising for both men and women regularly specifies an age range, this practice disproportionately impacts women, in particular older women. For most of the basic-skill jobs stereotypically viewed as female and for which employers specifically seek woman applicants, such as secretaries, wait staff and sales staff, employers most frequently specify young women. As detailed above, some employment magazines dedicate a whole section to employment for “young women” [devushki], but not for women generally. In other general categories, employers will also specify the desired age of applicants by using the explicit term “young woman” [devushka],” and may further describe age limits, although the term itself implies an age range of approximately eighteen to twenty-eight.
Advertisements with upper limits on the age of applicants are standard in both print and Internet publications, as reflected in many of the examples presented above. In other examples, the April 17, 2003 edition of Zaproshuemo na robotu lists an advertisement from a staffing agency: “Accountant. Qualifications, woman, under 30,”225 and another for an office manager for work in an informational center that seeks, “woman, under 35.”226 Far fewer advertisements specify older women, although there are some examples, such as: “Treatment diagnostic center seeks employees women 30-60, medical education not necessary.”227 Another employer sought retired women or women close to retirement for consulting work.228
In her inquiries about jobs in Proponuiu Robotu, Larisa L. found that while age specifications were not as strict as gender restrictions, employers hesitated to interview her because of her age, without any actual knowledge of her educational qualifications or prior experience. She read one advertisement for a computer operator for an informational publication, with the requirements, “serious, responsible, non-smoking young woman, under 25.”229 When she called, “the manager asked me to come, as they needed to look at me and only then they will talk [about an interview].”230
Marta M. also faced several instances in inquiring about accounting jobs when her “age was not acceptable” to prospective employers who had set age limits for candidates at thirty or thirty-five.231 On two separate occasions, she called about job advertisements and “they would ask immediately, ‘How old are you?’ And I would answer, forty-three, and beyond that, they don’t want to converse any further.”232 When she didn’t find any vacancy announcements open to her in the employment center, Alla A. searched through different publications for potential job openings. While she found announcements for vacant positions in her field of specialization and appropriate to her qualifications, age limits created an additional obstacle. “I tried [looking for jobs] through newspapers, but there were age limits,” she said.233 In some cases Alla A. called the employer anyway, but with no success. “When they asked me how old I am, they say it is only for people under thirty. They never told me that I was refused because I am over thirty, but… when they hear that I am over thirty, they tell me the vacancy is closed,” she told Human Rights Watch.234
In December 2002, Valentina V., a forty-seven-year old professional specializing in personnel management, interviewed for a position as the head of personnel for a private firm. Valentina V. recalled that the human resources representative had told her, “You’re perfect for this position. You have good experience. You have good test results,” and then offered her the position if she would accept the terms of the offer. Valentina V. then met the general director and filled out a questionnaire that included a question about her age. She said that her date of birth was the only new information not included in her CV. “When the director read this information, I saw doubt cross his face,” she said. “He didn’t ask me anything, he just looked at the questionnaire.”235 Although the firm had made a preliminary offer, they did not hire her after seeing information about her age in the questionnaire. For similar reasons, Valentina V. had a difficult time being hired at the company where she currently works. Although the advertisement specified candidates under thirty-five, Valentina V. called anyway, and during the initial conversation, no one asked about her age. However, when she arrived at the interview, the employer requested she fill out an application form that included her date of birth. She told Human Rights Watch, “When they saw my date of birth, they were surprised. Four months after the interview I didn’t hear anything, but I knew by that time that others were working there. Younger people. But, when these people didn’t pass the trial period, they hired me.”236
Alla A. and many other women felt that their options for potential jobs were limited because of age requirements established by employers. “I’m not sure that I could work in marketing at my age,” she told Human Rights Watch.237 Raissa R. expressed a similar sentiment with respect to her job prospects, saying “I understand that for me to be a secretary, I’m not exactly the right age. Everyone wants to take younger people.” When asked how she feels in this situation, she responded, “I’m unsure, unconfident of myself.”238 When, at age forty-six, Luba L. lost her job in the motor and combine factory, she took a trainee position in nursing. After fifteen years working in mechanics, nursing was not the kind of job Luba L. wanted. However, she felt forced to accept the job because “there was really no point to look for other jobs. I saw that I was already older and there wouldn’t be many jobs available to me. I had seen the experience of other women my age looking for jobs [without success].”239 Luba L.’s supervisor in the hospital confirmed, “Almost all of the new nurses working for us are over forty. There is no demand for these women on the market and so they come to the hospital to look for work.”240
Olena O. fears that she will soon lose her job at a state agency due to restructuring in her department. She has been looking for other employment for a year and a half but feels that, because of employers’ age specifications, “it is very difficult for me to change jobs. I am forty-three, and every advertisement reads ‘under 35.’”241 “In three years I won’t be able to find any work at all,” she lamented.242 Vera V. faced similar frustrations. An English teacher and single mother of one, she told Human Rights Watch that she had decided to find a job in the private sector in order to earn more than her state school teacher salary. She has taken computer and office skills courses to help her move into a basic-skills secretarial or office manager job. Her primary method of searching for employment was through newspapers. Vera V. discovered that age specifications for candidates under thirty restricted the number of jobs for which she might qualify. “Yes, there are jobs I would have applied for if the age specifications had been different. I think it is stupid. I have more experience… than someone just graduating from university.”243
225 Zaproshuemo na Robotu, p. 14.
226 Ibid., p. 3
227 Nova Rabota, p. 24.
228 Zaproshuemo na Robotu, p. 9.
229 Proponuiu Robotu, p. 13.
230 Human Rights Watch correspondence with Larisa L., April 26, 2003.
231 Human Rights Watch interview with Marta M., Lviv, April 17, 2003.
233 Human Rights Watch interview with Alla A., Lviv, April 17, 2003.
235 Human Rights Watch interview with Valentina V., Kyiv, April 24, 2003.
237 Human Rights Watch interview with Alla A., Lviv, April 17, 2003.
238 Human Rights Watch interview with Raissa R., Kyiv, April 24, 2003.
239 Human Rights Watch interview with Luba L., Kharkiv, April 13, 2001.
240 Human Rights Watch interview with Veronika V., Kharkiv, April 13, 2001.
241 Human Rights Watch interview with Olena O., Lviv, April 17, 2003.
243 Human Rights Watch interview with Vera V., Lviv, April 17, 2003.