Are male-dominated workplaces bad for women’s health?

by |
Women working in male-dominated workplaces are prone to anxiety which could stay with them for years after they leave that environment.

This is one of the findings of a study by academics at the University of Indiana which looked at industries where women are often a very small number of the total workforce such as construction.

Focusing on workplaces where men make up 85 per cent or more of the workforce, the researchers considered the level of the hormone cortisol in female co-workers.

These levels naturally fluctuate during the day but in stressful situations those changes become dysregulated.

Cortisol helps regulate a range of functions throughout the body including blood pressure and immune system responses and high levels over a prolonged period can be extremely harmful to health.

Bianca Manago, one of the academics involved in the study, said that the team found that women in male-dominated workplaces displayed far more incidents of dysregulated cortisol levels than average. The results factored-out personality traits.

The findings are important for employers, especially in industries which are generally considered more male. That’s because the culture in those sectors may also be male-skewed, which reinforces that in an individual workplace.

Women joining a male-dominated workplace may say that they can ‘give as good as they get’ and join in with the ‘banter’ but if the business’ culture is at odds with what they are truly comfortable with then there could be problems.

In organizations which are addressing diversity it would appear from this study that simply hiring more women may not address this underlying issue. For a workforce that is both diverse and healthy, the business’ culture needs to be balanced.
  • Steve on 2015-09-02 10:53:11 AM

    As the only man in a department of 10 people, I wonder if the reverse is true, where men in female-dominated workplaces are also problematic.

  • Buck Thornton on 2015-09-02 11:29:28 AM

    I can tell you that as a lone male in a female/feminist Human Resources department, I have learned to keep my mouth shut and be quiet, learned this in meeting when the looks were "who let the man speak", had sexual harassment from my HR boss, lived through silent treatments, heard all about facial treatments, electrolysis, waxing in meetings and the list goes on.
    Do not, ever, challenge women in the workplace. This is not acceptable as a man. This is a career limiting move.
    Universities are becoming predominantly females, especially in many arts programs. Boys who want to start male groups and boycotted and their groups attempted to be terminated.

  • Laura on 2015-09-02 12:08:51 PM

    It could be the type of work that they are doing in an environment that is male-dominated that's raising cortisol levels, rather than who they are working with.

HRM Online forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Name (required)
Comment (required)
By submitting, I agree to the Terms & Conditions