Women working in male-dominated industries can experience unhealthy levels of stress, according to new research.
Sociologists at Indiana University Bloomington, in the United States, studied the daily stress hormone patterns for more than 440 women.
The researchers believe social problems associated with being the “token” female could deregulate the body’s stress response, leading to greater vulnerability to illness.
They monitored the potential effects of work environments where men made up 85 per cent or more of the staff. Using data from the National Study of Daily Experiences – which examines the day to day lives of a nationwide sample of Americans – they measured and compared the cortisol patterns of women in these environments.
The hormone cortisol is linked to stress response and immune function, and levels fluctuate throughout the day.
However, people exposed to high levels of interpersonal stress display different cortisol patterns to those who face more average amounts.
Researcher Bianca Manago said they found women in male-dominated occupations had less healthy, or “dysregulated”, patterns of cortisol throughout the day.
Sociologist Cate Taylor added that such a response is known to be unhealthy.
“Our findings are especially important because dysregulated cortisol profiles are associated with negative health outcomes.”
Previous research has shown that working in male-dominated places can cause social isolation for women.
It has also been linked with performance pressures, sexual harassment and obstacles to professional mobility.
President of the New Zealand Federation of Business and Professional Women Vicky Mee said the findings rang true. There was a certain isolation being female in a male-dominated work place, she said.
“In order to promote … ideas or to get actual promotion within that organisation, your competence has to be higher than most people around you because it’s got to shine, and that brings with it a definite pressure.”
She said this was one of the reasons for promoting women’s empowerment.
Joan Withers, one of the country’s most successful business people, said she had not experienced this during her career. She said it was more about workplace culture, which had changed in the last couple of decades.
The study, Occupational Sex-Segregation, Workplace Interactions and Chronic Physiological Stress Response, was presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting. Additional reporting from agencies