Despite the lowest unemployment rate in nearly five years and a looming talent shortage as baby boomers begin to retire, the grey ceiling remains a significant obstacle in the career paths of corporate leaders.
According to a survey by Connecticut-based recruiter ExecuNet, nearly three-quarters of executives in the U.S. are concerned they will be discriminated against on the basis of their age and almost six out of 10 believe their age has disqualified them as a candidate for opportunities in the past.
The survey, which quizzed 168 executives with an average age of 50, found that a third of executives believe that age becomes a significant factor in a hiring decision at or below the age of 50. A further third say it kicks in between the ages of 51 and 55, and the remainder believe that it becomes an issue after the age of 55.
"While age discrimination doesn't always receive the attention is deserves, particularly during periods of economic growth, its a problem that nearly every professional will inevitably face in their career," said Dave Opton, ExecuNet's CEO.
"Anecdotal evidence suggests that an executive under the age of forty will typically have twice as many interviews as an executive over the age of fifty."
Nearly half of those surveyed say that the stereotypes suggesting older workers are inflexible and lack energy are most responsible for putting executives at risk of being discriminated on the basis of age.
Corporate cost cutting is also seen as a major factor in employers' ageist attitudes, while, to a lesser extent, rapid changes in technology and increased health insurance premiums are also reasons that older executives encounter age discrimination.
The survey also found that while nearly half of all executives expect to retire after the age of 65, a quarter are concerned they may be forced into retirement sooner due to their age.
However as last month's New Retirement Study by Merrill Lynch found, many of these may not be retiring in the traditional sense. Three-quarters of baby boomers said they have no intention of putting their feet up, with seven out of 10 hoping to continuing to work beyond the traditional retirement age in some capacity.
The Merrill Lynch report also underlined the fact that many employers have still to grasp the full implications of the boomer outflow from the workforce. Almost a third of companies admitted that there has not been much thought about it and four out of 10 reported that it is not viewed as an important priority at either an HR or senior management level.
But as Dave Opton stressed, these new workforce realities will place real pressure on organisations.
"With approximately 76 million baby boomers approaching retirement, corporate America needs to radically rethink its approach to attracting and retaining older executives," he said.
"Organizations that consciously or unconsciously overlook the value of older executives are sabotaging future growth."