What Working With Too Many Men Means For Your Health

August 26th 2015

Working with too many men can negatively impact a woman's health and create unhealthy amounts of stress, according to new research presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting.

Academics from Indiana University-Bloomington came to this conclusion after studying the cortisol levels of nearly 450 American women at jobs where 85 percent of the workers are male. Cortisol is a stress hormone that fluctuates throughout the day. However, those with more interpersonal (or person-to-person) stress exposure in their lives show different fluctuation patterns than folks with more normal amounts of stress.

The study found that women working with mostly men had less healthy cortisol profiles than women who worked in more gender balanced workplaces. According to the researchers, cortisol is very sensitive to social stressors and not as sensitive to physical stressors. This strengthened the researchers' evidence that the cortisol inconsistency is at least partially related to the workplace culture women face in male dominated environments.

Bianca Manago, a doctoral student in sociology, said in a release that women who mostly work with men are "more likely to experience exposure to high levels of interpersonal, workplace stressors."

"We find that women in male-dominated occupations have less healthy, or 'dysregulated,' patterns of cortisol throughout the day," she continued.

Fellow study author Cate Taylor further explained the dangers of dysregulated cortisol levels in the same release.

"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."

Other research on women in the workplace.

Male dominant industries can also impact the way women interact with each other, according to psychologist Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute. Three years ago, Dr. Namie said women in such professional settings sometimes turn on each other to move up at work.

In competitive and male dominated lines of work such as law and finance, "women feel the need to be hyper-aggressive to get ahead in a male-dominated environment,” Dr. Namie told Forbes.

"Women bullies will often befriend you and then air all your secrets later, in boardrooms or at office gatherings," Dr. Namie continued. "I’ve had patients that just can’t trust again after being humiliated like that at work."

How soft sexism can harm women professionally.

Women also face sexism in the workplace—both subtle and otherwise. Earlier this year, ATTN: wrote about the quiet but sinister impact of subtle sexism in the workplace, noting the unsuccessful lawsuit of Ellen Pao, who sued former employer Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Bryers. While working at the venture capital firm, Pao reported experiencing unwanted sexual advances from a colleague, and Pao argued that she fell victim to unfair treatment at the workplace following this complaint. During performance reviews, she was critiqued for having "sharp elbows." Though some of her male coworkers received similar feedback, they were promoted while she was not. Some of her male colleagues also organized a skiing trip that excluded women.

As we pointed out in the spring, these aren't blatant examples of workplace sexism, but this more nuanced way of keeping women down is no less harmful. Pao went on to reveal in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that droves of females came forward to share their experiences of workplace sexism with her.

"Women were kind of taking me aside and telling me their story," she said. "I found it very emotional, and I felt a very strong connection to them. And they were strangers off the street or in an elevator, or on a message on LinkedIn. Our shared experiences created a very tight bond."

"There were people who shared stories that they hadn’t told other people, that they bottled up for many years," Pao continued. "It was very inspiring to hear people share their stories and to feel this bond ... Women who felt like they were uncomfortable before, that there was something that just wasn’t right, are hopefully now more comfortable pointing it out. They’re now able to point to discussions and research about it."

Blatant sexism in male dominated fields.

There are also more obvious examples of sexism in male dominant fields. Two months ago, medicine Nobel Prize winner Tim Hunt resigned in shame from his position as Honorary Professor with the University College London (UCL) Faculty of Life Sciences following comments he made about women posing distractions to men in labs.

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls," Hunt said at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. "Three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.”

Because STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Medicine) careers are male dominated, Hunt was panned for criticizing female workers who are already outnumbered.

"UCL can confirm that Sir Tim Hunt FRS has today resigned from his position as Honorary Professor with the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences, following comments he made about women in science at the World Conference of Science Journalists on 9 June," UCL posted on its website following Hunt's resignation. "UCL was the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms to men, and the university believes that this outcome is compatible with our commitment to gender equality."

Last year, writer Kelly J. Baker noted in an article that 71 percent of female scientists have experiencing sexual harassment and assault. Women scientists were also at a higher risk of being assaulted on the job.

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