Thursday, August 27th, 2015
A male dominated workplace could cause dangerous stress levels in women, according to researchers.
They believe social problems associated with being the ‘token’ female could deregulate the body’s stress response – leading to greater vulnerability to illness.
And far from ending when workers clock off for the day, the effects could potentially last for years.
Workplaces can be highly segregated environments – with the majority of primary school teachers being female, for example, while chemistry professors tend to be male.
In the UK, women currently represent just 11% of the construction industry, with a mere 2% of those in manual work. Similarly, just 15.5% of those employed in science, technology, engineering and maths are female.
Now sociologists in the US have monitored the potential effects of such an environment. A team from Indiana University looked at workplaces where men made up 85% or more of the staff.
Using data from the National Study of Daily Experiences – which examines the day to day lives of a nation-wide sample of Americans – they measured the cortisol patterns of women in these environments.
The hormone cortisol is linked both to stress response and immune function, and levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day.
However, people exposed to high levels of interpersonal stress display different cortisol patterns to those who face more average amounts.
Researcher Bianca Manago said: ‘We found women in male-dominated occupations have less healthy, or “dysregulated”, patterns of cortisol throughout the day.’ She added that this appeared to still be the case even when results were checked to take different personalities into account.
‘We use statistical techniques to account for individuals’ occupational and individual characteristics,’ she said. ‘This allows us to be more confident the dysregulation of cortisol is due to the negative working conditions of token women, and not their own personal characteristics nor those of their occupations.’
Professor Cate Taylor, who also worked on the research, added that such a physical response is known to be unhealthy.
She said: ‘Our findings are especially important because dysregulated cortisol profiles are associated with negative health outcomes.
‘Thus, our project provides evidence that negative social climates encountered by women in male-dominated occupations may be linked to later negative health outcomes.’
Previous findings have shown that working in male-dominated places can cause social isolation for women. It has also been linked with performance pressures, sexual harassment, and obstacles to professional mobility.
Women also report experiencing moments of both high visibility and apparent invisibility, as well as doubts about their competence.
Chronic exposure to these types of stress is known to cause vulnerability to disease and greater risk of mortality. For example, people aged 65 or older have previously been found to be considerably more likely to die of heart disease within six years if they have high levels of stress hormones.
Crucially, findings suggest that deregulation of cortisol production can last for years.
Source: New Zealand Herald
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