Human Resources magazine and the HR Bulletin daily email newsletter:
Asia's only regional HR print and digital media brand.
Register for your FREE subscription now »
As a boss, you’re expected to be confident, assertive and ambitious. But what do you do when these very characteristics lead to lower levels of confidence and add pressure to your mental health?
This is the conundrum women leaders are increasingly facing, according to a study conducted by researchers from University of Texas at Austin and Iowa State University, which found that women in powerful positions are more likely to face high stress levels and depression.
“Women with job authority — the ability to hire, fire and influence pay — have significantly more symptoms of depression than women without this power,” Tetyana Pudrovska, lead author of the study, said in a press release. “In contrast, men with job authority have fewer symptoms of depression than men without such power.”
Polling more than 1,300 middle-aged men and 1,500 middle-aged women from Wisconsin, the study attributed cultural ideals and stereotypes of femininity as the main reason behind the poor mental health of women leaders.
It found women’s high control at work may become a source of strain, as a woman’s authority could contradict the prevailing gender stereotypes and status beliefs about how women should behave – which includes a focus on traits such as empathy, nurture and attachment.
These traits were highlighted as “opposing” those of a leader with job authority – namely power, dominance, competitiveness and ambition.
“Years of social science research suggest 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,” Pudrovska said.
“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.”
On the other hand, Pudrovska said men in authority positions generally deal with fewer stressors because they do not have to overcome the resistance and negative stereotypes that women often face.
“Men in positions of authority are consistent with the expected status beliefs, and male leadership is accepted as normative and legitimate,” she said. “This increases men’s power and effectiveness as leaders and diminishes interpersonal conflict.”