‘Token’ women in male-dominated workplaces suffer more stress

28 Aug
Working in male-dominated environments makes women more susceptible to chronic stress. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/hin255)

Working in male-dominated environments makes women more susceptible to chronic stress. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/hin255)

Women who work in predominantly male workplaces are more prone to unhealthy levels of stress – and this is down to the environment, not to the woman’s personality type or the job she does. That’s according to a study by Indiana University into the stress exposure of women working in male-dominated professions.

The researchers measured the levels of stress hormone cortisol in women working in environments that were 85% male. “We found that women in male-dominated occupations have less healthy, or ‘dysregulated,’ patterns of cortisol throughout the day,” said co-researcher Bianca Manago, a doctoral student in sociology. ” Such women are more likely to experience exposure to high levels of interpersonal, workplace stressors.”

Those stressors and pressures can include doubts about the woman’s competence and performance, being excluded from after-work social activities, bumping against the glass ceiling, sometimes sexual harassment, and generally receiving little support. The study concluded that it’s exposure to these negative working conditions that puts ‘token’ women at risk of chronic stress – not the job they’re performing, or because they have high standards or a particular personality type. This ‘dysregulation of stress response’ – basically when too much cortisol is produced, leaving the woman in a state of high alert – can have consequences way down the line.

Co-researcher Cate Taylor, assistant professor of sociology and gender studies, added: “Our findings are especially important because dysregulated cortisol profiles are associated with negative health outcomes. This is evidence that the negative workplace social climates encountered by women in male-dominated occupations may be linked to later negative health outcomes for these women.”


If affordable childcare is the answer for working mothers, what’s the question…?

30 Jan

How interesting it is to hear from the Department for Education that, if only childcare were more affordable and available, then more women would go back into the workplace. Its Childcare and Early Survey of Parents 2012-13 found that more than half of women (54%) currently staying at home with their kids would prefer to work. Just that they can’t afford to.

With the number of working mothers increasing from 60% in 2011 to 64% in 2012, and those working full time rising from 24% to 29%, more than half of mothers in work said having reliable childcare was “the most helpful arrangement which would help them to go out to work”.

The statistics show that nearly four in five families use some kind of childcare while during term times, whether that’s paid-for services like nurseries or childminders (64%) or grandparents, parents and friends (40%), or a mix of both (27%). And 46% of families with school-aged children used formal childcare in the holidays.

Some of the more interesting figures come from mothers already working:

  • 37% would prefer to stay at home and look after the kids if they could afford it.
  • 57% said they would like to work fewer hours and stay at home more with the kids if they could afford it.
  • 23% would like to work more if they could have affordable, convenient and reliable childcare.

From these statistics, working mothers would like to work less, and stay-at-home-mums would like to work more. All of which is dependent on flexible, independent childcare that doesn’t eat into most of the working mother’s income.

Great to have the stats, Department for Education. But what needs to change as a result of this survey is more affordability and reliability of childcare. So what’s the question…?

The Apprentice 2013: ‘What’s wrong with being a strong woman in business?’

18 Jul

“What’s wrong with being a strong, direct, outspoken woman in business?” asked Luisa Zissman at the start of the series finale of The Apprentice 2013 – a final she went on to lose against Leah Totton.

Luisa had been called manipulative and argumentative during the series, and even her teammates in the final, who were meant to be supporting her, were “glad to see her sweating a bit”. And yet Luisa remained feisty and focused on bringing her online baking brand to life – even to the point of talking too much, listening too little, and reacting emotionally after her presentation to the trade.

Leah Totton was even more focused, I thought, giving her teammates’ contributions short shrift. She knew her own mind. “I like boring,” she retorted when someone criticised her logo design. There was no breaking down in tears for Leah after her presentation to the experts.

Irregardless of who won (though I would have gone for Luisa), I was fascinated to see two women reach the final and go all-out to win Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment. Some commentators have argued that the show did nothing for feminism, and Luisa was even quoted saying that feminism had nothing to do with her success. She said being “aggressive and ruthless” got her to where she is today. But I did love this riposte from Katy Brand, claiming that Luisa was more of a feminist than she believed herself to be.

Luisa may not have won the Apprentice money, but she has apparently found other investors willing to support her brand. I doubt we’ll have heard the last of her.

What’s wrong with being a strong woman in business? What, indeed!

Women’s career choices are all about location, location, location

16 Jul

Women want different things from men when it comes to deciding which employer to work for. While pay and benefits are always crucial in this decision, location is also a huge priority for female candidates.

A survey by Randstad US of 7,000 people found that 44% of women said location was an important employer attribute, compared with 35% of men. More than a third (37%) of women also said workplace flexibility was crucial in their decision, compared with 26% of male respondents. What ranked highly among men was career progression (42%) and a company’s financial health (36%). For women these percentages respectively were 36% and 28%.

Randstad US senior vice president Lisa Crawford said how a company is perceived will affect what candidates it attracts. “Companies may need to focus on key elements, such as building culture and adopting more flexible work policies, to appeal to different demographics. Attracting and retaining talent is not a one-stop shop,” she added.

Images of female role models empower and inspire women leaders, says study

22 Apr

Who’d have thought that looking at a photo of a powerful female role model, like Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel, could inspire women to become more successful leaders. But a new study – Successful female leaders empower women’s behaviour in leadership tasks – shows that exposure to female role models can improve women’s performance in leadership tasks.

Men and women were asked to give a speech while being exposed to a photo of Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Bill Clinton or not picture. The speeches were measured in terms of length and quality. Women spoke longer (and were there perceived to give a better speech) when they were exposed to the photo of Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel. But they spoke less, and their speeches were rated to be of lower quality, when Bill Clinton or no picture was shown.

The researchers concluded: “Subtle exposures to highly successful female leaders inspired women’s behavior and self-evaluations in stressful leadership tasks.”

Whose face would inspire and empower you when you have to make a stressful speech…?

Women want inspiration and leadership at work

18 Apr

Women value inspirational leaders and working environments over other benefits such as healthcare or pension, according to new research from O2.

Women also want their bosses to take the lead on issues such as flexible working. More than half say they want reassurance that working flexibly won’t have a detrimental effect on their career and that they can be trusted to work from home. In short, they don’t just want to stick to the traditional patterns of working, and they want that set out in black and white. An inspiring workplace is a flexible and empowering one for women.

Ben Dowd, O2 business director, says: “To create a truly flexible working culture, actions speak louder than words. And employers must lead by example to ensure that every member of staff feels empowered to shape their own definition of the nine to five.”

The eyes have it: why men don’t understand women

17 Apr

Scientists have proven what women have suspected for centuries: men don’t understand them. It’s not for want of trying. It’s just that men can read other men’s feelings from the expression in their eyes, but not women’s.

Researchers from the LWL University Hospital in Bochum, Germany, attempted to find out why in their study Why men don’t understand women. Altered Neural Networks for Reading the Language of Male and Female Eyes. They carried out a brain scan, a version of the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test’ on 22 men. They found that men had twice as many problems recognising emotions in female eyes compared to male eyes. They just can’t work out what women are feeling.

The scientists explained that men could relate what they see in other men’s eyes to themselves, as they could link this back to their own past thoughts and feelings. But they drew a blank when looking into women’s eyes as the brain can’t recall similar images from the past, and are therefore unable to empathise with women’s feelings.

The scientists said these results could be explained by evolution: men’s ability to interpret “threatening cues” in other men “may have been a factor contributing to survival in ancient times”. They add: “As men were more involved in hunting and territory fights, it would have been important for them to be able to predict and foresee the intentions and actions of their male rivals.”

%d bloggers like this: