Workplace Authority Affects Men And Women Differently

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Females with workplace authority are often faced with resistance and negative stereotypes which can lead to depression
Men and women respond differently to being placed in a position of power at work, with female bosses experiencing an increase in symptoms of depression and their male counterparts experiencing a decrease in such symptoms when being able to hire and fire employees, scientists at the University of Texas at Austin claim in a new study.
According to BBC News health reporter Pippa Stephens, lead author Tetyana Pudrovska, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, and her colleagues interviewed 2,800 middle-aged men and women (1,300 males and 1,500 females) between 1993 and 2004. The subjects were between the ages of 54 and 64, and each of them graduated from high schools in Wisconsin, Stephens added.
Each participant was asked about workplace authority and the number of days they experienced symptoms of depression, including feeling melancholy and believing that one’s life was a failure, over the past week. They found that women who were placed in a position to hire/fire employees and influence pay, women were predicted to have a 9 percent increased rate of symptoms than female professionals who lacked such authority.
Conversely, men in such positions were predicted to have a 10 percent decreased rate of depression symptoms. The researchers said their work controlled for other factors that could cause depression, such as number of hours worked per week, whether people had flexible hours, and how often workers were checked by a supervisor.
Pudrovska and co-author Amelia Karraker from Iowa State University, who published their findings in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, report that the processes of gender stratification help create a workplace in which exercising job authority exposes female employees to interpersonal stressors which ultimately undermine the health benefits typically associated with job authority.
“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,” Pudrovska explained in a statement Thursday. “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.”
“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,” she added. “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.”
Men placed in positions of authority, however, typically deal with fewer stressors because they do not have to overcome the workplace resistance and negative stereotypes often faced by their female counterparts, Pudrovska said. Instead, male authority figures are accepted as normative and legitimate, consistent with the status quo, and this in turn increases the power and effectiveness of the male authority figure, diminishing interpersonal conflict.
Dr. Ruth Sealy from the City University London Department of Psychology told BBC News that women were often “trapped” by the gendered ideal of what a good leader is, but when those same women adopted traditionally masculine behaviors as leaders, they are often criticized for being unfeminine.
She added that people naturally assume men are competent leaders, and women have had to traditionally work much harder to get to those positions, meaning that their “right” to such status “is continuously questioned.” Dr. Sealey concluded that it was essential for female leaders to be viewed as natural as male leaders.
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