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‘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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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…?

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.”

Launch of first ever ‘Bar Nursery’ to support female barristers’ careers

16 Apr

The Bar Council has launched the first ever ‘Bar Nursery‘, a childcare facility in central London, to help barristers with children honour their work and family commitments.

The Bar Nursery at Smithfield House – near the Inns of Court – will offer flexible, discounted childcare from 7am to 7pm for children aged eight weeks to five years old. The idea is to “ease the pressure” on self-employed barristers, who otherwise may be put off joining the profession. The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, may open up further Bar Nurseries across the country, depending on demand.

Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar, says:”It is important that members of the profession are not discouraged from starting a family because of their work, which could have a detrimental effect particularly on the number of women choosing a career at the Bar. It could also see talented practitioners leaving the self-employed Bar for a more stable working life in employed practice, or even another profession.”

It’s not often you hear of initiatives like this that are practical and take care of short-term priorities as well as keeping a long-term view of talent and diversity. If only other professions could follow suit.

Cheers to the new vintage of women sommeliers

15 Apr
Women are increasingly taking the wine world by storm. (pic: )istockphoto.com/boule13

Women are increasingly taking the wine world by storm. (pic: istockphoto.com/boule13)

I love the thought of women breaking the stuffy ranks of male-dominated industries, which is why it was a delight to read this Bloomberg article: Women pull corks as female sommeliers take over cellars.

Maybe it’s female intuition, the ability to ‘read a table’ or her non-confrontational manner when discussing a wine list with customers. There’s probably no single reason, but the new vintage of sommeliers in New World and Old World is becoming increasingly female.

The article quotes figures from the Institute of Masters of Wine showing that there are 87 women out of 287 masters of wine across the world. And new masters coming through are more likely to be female than male. And in the US, a restaurant group says 40% of its sommeliers are women.

It quotes beverage director Liz Nicholson from a major New York hotel saying that the female touch has made wine drinking and ordering much less elitist: “Women sommeliers have really helped remove being so uptight about ordering wine,” she says.

I’ll certainly drink to that.

Women with ‘elite’ education are increasingly opting out of full-time work

11 Apr

Work-life balance has taken a new turn. The higher the levels of study, the higher the chance that women will choose to opt-out of full-time work, says a study from Vanderbilt University.

The research found that 60% of female graduates from elite colleges are working full-time compared to 68% of women from other schools. Children are the key factor in hours women choose to work. Among graduates from ‘elite’ colleges, married women without children are 20 percentage points more likely to be employed than those with children.

The biggest difference is with women who have MBAs. Married mothers with an MBA and a first degree from a selective school are 30 percentage points less likely to be employed full-time than graduates of less selective schools, the study found.

Even though elite graduates are more likely to earn advanced degrees, marry at later ages and have higher expected earnings, they are still opting out of full-time work at much higher rates than other graduates, especially if they have children,” says Vanderbilt professor of law and economics Joni Hersch.

For a more in-depth understanding of her findings, read her full report: Opting Out among Women with Elite Education.

Women who work long hours risk piling on weight

3 Apr

The more hours women work, the more likely they are to gain weight. That’s the blunt finding of a study of 9,000 middle-aged Australian women.

Long hours are defined as 41-48 hours per week. Very long hours are 49-plus. The argument the researchers put forward for the weight gain of hard-working women is because they don’t have the time or energy to eat healthily or exercise. More than half of the women (55%) put on weight during the two years of the study, while a third (31%) lost weight.

Nicole Au, a research fellow at the Centre for Health Economics at Monash University who carried out the study, says: “These statistics provide some clues as to how employment patterns may affect lifestyle choices, and subsequently, body weight.”

The survey found that 65% who work more than 49 hours per week drink alcohol at risky levels, and 36% did not do any physical activity. These findings chime with a report out in the UK showing that women’s dangerous levels of drinking are causing more divorces. The Telegraph reports that women are drinking more to help them cope with work stress.

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