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

by Steve Randall02 Sep 2015
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.


  • by 2/09/2015 6:32:09 PM

    I have held senior HR positions for the past 20 years, the first 7 in a female dominated workplace and the last 13 in a male dominated workplace.
    I can assure you it makes no difference. Logic would say that if females experience poor health in a male dominated workplace then males would experience the same in a female dominated workplace. Nevertheless, we all experience gender dominated environments outside work. Many families, associations, clubs,events, are by their nature or coincidentally gender dominant. When was the last time a female in family of 4 boys was diagnosed with poor health as a result of living with males ( and vice versa) So why is this flagged as an issue in workplaces? Probably because people were asked a survey question and answered in a manner to solicit attention or empathy ( human nature) Perhaps people blame their own shortcomings on the environment that they are in.
    I have witnessed a female manager running a whole state of retail stores with over 50 males reporting through to her, and she thrived on the dynamic and showed that females are every bit as good as males no matter what the gender mix. Don't be a shrinking violet and blame poor health on the workplace gender mix. Set and manage appropriate behaviour standards and move on. This concern is so 90s!

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