The quest for women’s equality is a battle that many have fought long and hard to obtain. Once expected to stay at home to care for the home and raise the children, with no option to earn their own income, today we can see powerful examples of the ‘modern woman’ dominating the boardrooms, leading Fortune 500 companies and making their mark in corporate America.
Unfortunately, while women have fought through some incredible odds on this journey, a study from the American Sociological Association highlights a new concern for women taking on positions of authority in their careers.
The study group was comprised of 2800 participants, including 1500 women and 1300 men. From 1993 until 2004, the study’s researchers tracked the careers of the participants including their job titles and any changes in position. At the same time, they also watched for any signs of depression, comparing the two in order to determine whether there were any patterns and connections to be observed between the changes in their career and their mental state.
Consideration was given to the fact that women statistically suffer from depression at a higher rate than their male counterparts. However, even with that information factored into the equation, the conclusion was clear. Women in positions of authority in the workplace were significantly more likely to suffer from depression.
“Women with job authority – the ability to hire, fire, and influence pay – have significantly more symptoms of depression than women without this power. In contrast, men with job authority have fewer symptoms of depression than men without such power,” explained Tetyana Pudrovska, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. “What’s striking is that women with job authority in our study are advantaged in terms of most characteristics that are strong predictors of positive mental health. These women have more education, higher incomes, more prestigious occupations, and higher levels of job satisfaction and autonomy than women without job authority. Yet, they have worse mental health than lower-status women.”
Even more concerning is the explanation as to why this occurs in our society. According to Pudrovska, when men hold positions of authority they deal with fewer stressors, not required to face the resistance or overcome the negative stereotypes that impact women. The image of a man in a position of power is accepted as normal and accepted. As such, men feel empowered to step into these positions. The experience for many women today, however, is far different.
“Years of social science research suggests that women in authority positions deal with interpersonal tension, negative social interactions, negative stereotypes, prejudice, social isolation, as well as resistance from subordinates, colleagues, and superiors. Women in authority positions are viewed as lacking the assertiveness and confidence of strong leaders. But when these women display such characteristics, they are judged negatively for being unfeminine. This contributes to chronic stress,” stated Pudrovska.
The study brings to light some important issues in our society regarding in regard to gender discrimination and hostility, as well as the prejudice that exists at this time against women leaders. It is only by addressing these concerns that we can turn around these statistics, reduce the costs and struggles that women feel in corporate America today.