Earlier this month I wrote about some new research that revealed the soothing benefits of coming into work every day. It found that the social support networks we build up at work can be a crucial buffer against depression amongst employees. What’s more, coming in to the office was found to be a better remedy for depression than suffering at home - which is interesting, I think.
A second study however, suggests that being a boss actually increases instances of depression amongst female bosses, although it was shown to decrease it for male managers.
The study, of nearly 3,000 bosses in Wisconsin, paints a rather depressing picture in itself, given the significant work undertaken around the world to achieve greater female representation in our boardrooms.
Sociologist, Tatyana Pudrovska said "Women with job authority -- the ability to hire, fire, and influence pay -- have significantly more symptoms of depression than women without this power," the researchers revealed. "In contrast, men with job authority have fewer symptoms of depression than men without such power."
Is it bad news for a woman to be in charge?
The study found that female employees in general displayed slightly more symptoms of depression than their male peers, but that this disparity rose significantly when they were in positions of authority. It emerged that as soon as you give women the power to hire and fire, or influence pay or the many other facets of leadership, the rate of depression rockets.
"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," the researchers continue. "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."
What is it that’s causing this?
So why does this happen? The researchers suggest that it is all down to how we deal with power. When a woman is in a position of power, the study suggests that they have to deal with all manner of extra things, from negative stereotypes to prejudice, social isolation to interpersonal tensions. These are on top of the regular challenges of leadership such as resistance from their team (and indeed their own bosses).
"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," the researchers suggest.
Male leaders by contrast, seldom have to deal with these issues and don’t tend to have to overcome any negative stereotypes when going about their work. This then leads to much less stress for them than their female peers.
What’s more, male leaders tend to uphold the stereotype expected of them, which in turn increases their power and effectiveness, and causes the kind of conflicts that lead to stress to diminish.
Removing the gender stereotypes at work
The researchers suggest that the best way to counter this is to address the gender discrimination that many women face, which will in turn reduce the psychological stresses they’re placed under.
Very noble intentions indeed, but one suspects that this is something that’s significantly easier to say than to do. It will be a long road ahead I feel before we have true gender equality in our workplaces. Hopefully, one day, we will get there however.
Image: Wonder Woman