This Is the Real Reason So Many Women Are Stressed About Work
Research has shown that women in male-dominated fields tend to experience more work-related stress than men in female-dominated ones. Cate Taylor, an assistant professor of sociology and gender studies at Indiana University, wondered why this was. Are women somehow more prone to work-related stress, or do differences in how men and women are treated have something to do with it?
To pinpoint the source of this gender disparity in workplace stress, Taylor simulated an environment in her lab where men basically had to deal with all the crap women deal with at work on a daily basis. Male participants were put in groups with three women who talked about shopping, yoga, and other stereotypically feminine topics. Women in the study went through the same process, with three men talking to them about sports and video games—something that tends to make women in male-dominated professions feel out of place at their jobs. She also had some subjects in same-gender groups that didn't exclude them.
While this was all taking place, Taylor took saliva samples of the participants to measure levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And as you might expect, feeling excluded stressed people out—regardless of gender.
So, we can probably chalk up the stress experienced by women in jobs where they're outnumbered—which Taylor calls the "token women"—to workplace sexism, not innate gender differences. While men in female-dominated professions may feel outnumbered, they're not given the same message that they don't belong there, and that's why they end up less anxious.
"This is not due to women being especially sensitive to these stressful work environments," says Taylor. "When put in the exact same conditions, men have a nearly identical stress response to women. It is the social conditions that cause the stress, not some natural or inherent different between women and men."
Other data supports the idea that workplace inequality at least partially contributes to gender discrepancies in mental health. One study even found that women who make less than men in similar jobs are more likely to experience anxiety and depression.
While these findings may make the experience of being a woman in a male-dominated profession sound bleak, Taylor cautions against getting discouraged. Jobs predominantly held by men also tend to be higher-paying and offer more flexibility and other perks, so being the token woman is often worth it. And hopefully, as workplaces become more inclusive, women in tech, science, and other stereotypically masculine fields will no longer even be the token women.
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