‘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.”

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