A male dominated workplace could cause dangerous levels of stress in women, according to researchers who 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. 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.
Sociologists have monitored the potential effects of such an environment. A team from Indiana University, USA looked at workplaces where men made up 85% or more of the staff.
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.
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 such environments.
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 taking 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. Our findings are especially important because dysregulated cortisol profiles are associated with negative health outcomes.’
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