Female bosses are more likely to feel depressed than those who don’t wield power at work, according to a new study. Men with authority, on the other hand, tend to feel happier than their lower ranking peers.
The reason behind these contrasting findings lies in pervasive gender stereotypes, says Tetyana Pudrovska, lead author of the study and assistant professor of sociology and demography at the University of Texas.
“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,” she says.
Characteristics associated with authority, such as dominance and competitiveness, are typically considered to be masculine traits. On the other hand, stereotypically feminine attributes, such as empathy, are not widely accepted as being compatible with a leadership role.
“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,” Dr Pudrovska says.
This catch-22 is a common problem for women in charge, and is known as the “double bind”. According to the researchers, it contributes to chronic stress, and explains why women don't feel the benefits of the status, autonomy and pay packet that come with job authority in the way that men do.
The study, published in the ‘Journal of Health and Social Behavior’, examined data of over 2800 men and women who had been interviewed in 1993 and 2004. Fourteen per cent of these women held a position of authority, defined as the ability to hire and fire others and influence their pay, compared to 30 per cent of the men studied.
The authors emphasise that simply helping women to break the so-called glass ceiling isn’t enough to address the gender imbalance in the workplace, as their findings show that women face a very different reality once they reach the top. For that reason, they suggest that policies should also focus on making it more pleasant to stay up there.