Tag Archives: women at work

‘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.”


Family commitments still hold women back in the workplace

4 Aug

When it comes to equal opportunities in the workplace, it seems that there’s the will – but not quite the way. The onus on women to raise the family is still a block to career advancement, according to a new study.

Resesarch among 180 HR directors by recruitment company Robert Half reveals that one in five believes that women are not on a par with men in the workplace. Half of them think that family commitments are a barrier to women – which backs up what new Dragon Hilary Devey has said about women not being able to have it all in business.

What also holds women back, according to the HR directors in the study, is the lack of promotional opportunities (42%) and wanting a work-life balance (36%).

More needs to be done to help women work round family commitments, yet only 41% of respondents have plans in place to introduce female-specific programmes. Interestingly, 93% believe that having equality policies in place to help women proceed up the ladder are effective in helping women achieve on a par with men in the workplace.

Robert Half UK managing director Phil Sheridan said: “While it is encouraging that most HR directors don’t view men as having an advantageous position over women in the workplace, more needs to be done. Companies should regularly review their succession and remuneration plans to ensure that women are treated fairly and equally, with policies to take into account their family and personal commitments.

“HR policies should help to embrace a culture of progression and innovation within an organisation. This is particularly important in light of the recent report by Lord Davies, which pushes for targets to be implemented to ensure that more talented and gifted women can get into the top jobs in companies across the UK,” he added.

Women’s health| Why heart attacks have no gender bias

1 Dec

Heart attacks are what happen to old, overweight men – or so I thought, until I heard about a senior female executive on the Board of a FTSE-100 company who recently dropped dead of a heart attack; and she wasn’t old, overweight or male.

Heart health is puzzling women (istockphoto/kroach)

It turns out that I’m not the only one who has little idea of how heart attacks are as much a threat to women as they are to men:  a survey by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) revealed that women are ‘in the dark’ about heart disease. Less than half (47%) of the women polled said they would call 999 immediately if they were suffering the symptoms of a heart attack, while 7% said they would ignore the warning signs and just carry on.

BHF statistics show that 40,000 women die of heart disease every year, which is three times as many as those who succumb to breast cancer – yet there is arguably more awareness of the risks and symptoms of breast cancer.

I applaud the BHF’s imaginative attempts to spread the message about women’s heart health, not just by doing surveys like this, but by ‘beating heart disease one laugh at a time’ with its Angina Monologues. This is a campaign that has lined up top UK comediennes, including Jo Brand and Victoria Wood, to stage a comedy night to raise awareness of heart disease among women (and, presumably, to reduce stress levels by giving everyone a laugh).

And it’s stress that has a huge impact on heart health. There are environmental factors that cause heart disease, and whose effect can be reduced by stopping smoking, eating healthily, avoiding salty and fatty foods, and exercising regularly. The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women also contains advice for keeping our hearts in tip-top shape. 

But what may be the most challenging factor for some women is keeping work-related stress levels under control. Research from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston in the US says that women who have highly stressful jobs are 88% more likely to have a heart attack than their less-stressed colleagues.

What particularly struck me in this report is that it is women in stressful jobs “that offer little room for decision making or creativity” who are more at risk of a heart attack. In other words, women who work with their heads down, probably not in senior managerial roles, and perhaps who sacrifice their true potential for the sake of climbing the lucrative career ladder.

I have no idea if that was the case for the top executive who had the sudden heart attack – and who may have prompted other  high-flyers to ask themselves why they push themselves so hard. But these findings have made me think about the importance of laughter, being in charge of our own lives – and finding an outlet for our, often suppressed and forgotten, creativity.


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