As I said in the first post of this series, I understand gender is more complex than the binary of male and female. Most of the research that underpins these posts perpetuates that binary. However, as recently as in the last ten years, social science researchers have begun to investigate the experience of non-binary and non-conforming gender identity in the workplace. That important research will expand our understanding of the experience of work.
understanding stress helps us understand needs
In this post, I discuss some of the workplace stressors that are unique to women. This is important because research shows that women consistently report higher levels of workplace stress than men. For a very readable understanding of those stressors, I recommend the article by Gyllensten and Palmer listed at the end of this post.
My expertise lies in improving our individual relationship with work and helping employers become a generative force in the lives of their employees. I’m not, however, an expert in how women experience workplace stress. My goal for this post is to create awareness of what the experts believe are the biggest workplace stressors in the lives of women. Awareness of the stressors unique to women contributes to our understanding of the needs of women in the workplace.
the double day
The expectation to fulfill multiple roles is one of the most significant stressors. Women continue to be responsible for the majority of domestic chores and childcare. Although men are now taking on some of these responsibilities, it is still women who do the majority of this work. Even if some men do more domestic work, women still experience more conflict between their work and family roles. For women, the stress associated with fulfilling responsibilities at work during the day and then in the family outside of their workplace roles is referred to as the double day. While research shows that responsibilities outside of the workplace can be a source of wellbeing, it is only the nature and quality of the experience that determines wellbeing, not the responsibility itself.
the glass ceiling and the ‘old boys club’
Gender bias in the workplace has contributed to a lack of career progress. Lack of career progress, known as the often subtle but powerful glass ceiling, is a major source of stress for women and it has been linked to negative health outcomes. Women are much less likely to be promoted in male-dominated professions. Even in female-dominated professions, men often dominate senior management. This lack of career progression contributes to women being socially isolated from important workplace networks. Social networks of male-dominated senior management are often referred to as the ‘old boys club.’ It is often in these networks where newcomers are provided mentorship and an environment to develop the necessary political skills to succeed in senior leadership roles. Being mentored and exhibiting political skill are key criteria for success in senior management and executive leadership. Excluding women from these networks, either as newcomers or key players, contributes to women’s exclusion from senior roles.
stereotyping and discrimination
Five decades of research show that the evaluation of women’s workplace performance often has little to do with ability, and a lot to do with how they are perceived to conform to sex-related expectations. Specifically, women are expected to show warmth, care and expressiveness, while at the same time display individualism, aggression and power characteristic of males in the workplace. Women are often evaluated on the situational appropriateness and balance of this complex constellation of behaviors. Men, however, are typically evaluated on results and only punished when behaviors impede results. This stereotyping that leads to discrimination in performance evaluation has also led to discrimination in compensation. In Canada, women earn an average of 74 cents for every dollar men earn.
employers can make a real difference right now
Leading thinkers on women’s issues in the workplace have much in common when they advocate for solutions. Along with working toward solutions to issues like sexual harassment and encouraging women from an early age to pursue careers in science, medicine and engineering, most employers have the resources to immediately improve the working lives of women. The availability of on-site childcare is an effective and practical way of reducing women’s workplace stress. Effective policies that aim to reduce discrimination are another solution that can be implemented by employers who truly care about the wellbeing of working women. Employers can encourage and support dialogue throughout their organizations focused on discrimination and the importance of corrective policies. Employers can provide mentoring and networking opportunities that integrate women into organizational power structures. Lastly, everyone in society can allow for greater flexibility in gender roles so that both women and men are free to pursue careers, or take on domestic chores and childcare responsibilities without being punished for their choice.
In my last post in this series, I will discuss workplace stressors unique to men.
In this post I have drawn significant content from the following article: Gyllensten, K., & Palmer, S. (2005). The role of gender in workplace stress: A critical literature review. Health Education Journal, 64(3), 271-288.