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Women who work in very male-dominated environments face higher stress levels, according to a US study.
The research by Indiana University Bloomington researchers Bianca Manago, a doctoral student in sociology, and Cate Taylor, an assistant professor of sociology and gender studies, builds on previous research which has shown that women working in male-dominated occupations face particular challenges. These include social isolation, performance pressures, sexual harassment, obstacles to mobility, moments of both high visibility and invisibility, co-workers’ doubts about their competence, and low levels of workplace social support.
Manago and Taylor measured cortisol levels in women working in occupations that were made up of 85 percent or more men. Normally cortisol levels fluctuate during the day, but the research found women in male-dominated professions had higher levels throughout the day regardless of their personal profile or the job they were doing.
“We find that women in male-dominated occupations have less healthy, or ‘dysregulated,’ patterns of cortisol throughout the day,” Manago said.
The research is the first to demonstrate that negative workplace climates can be expressed in these women’s bodies and can, in fact, dysregulate their stress response, potentially for years after the exposure to the stressful workplace climate.
“Our findings are especially important because dysregulated cortisol profiles are associated with negative health outcomes,” Taylor said. “Thus, our project provides 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.”