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Working in male-dominated workplaces is bad for women’s health

Being the “token” woman in a male-dominated workplace can be harmful to your health. At least this is what new research at Indiana University shows, their findings indicate that found women in male-dominated jobs (those that were made up at least 85 per cent or more men) may experience unhealthy changes in the stress hormone cortisol.

Cortisol is a hormone that naturally fluctuates through the day, but people with high levels of interpersonal stress exposure have different patterns of fluctuation in comparison to people exposed to more average levels of stress.

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Previous research has shown that women also encounter social isolation, performance pressures, sexual harassment, obstacles to mobility, moments of both high visibility and invisibility, co-workers’ doubts about their competence, and low levels of workplace social support in mostly male work environments. Chronic exposure to these types of social stressors is known to cause vulnerability to disease and mortality through dysregulation of the human body’s stress response.

“We find that women in male-dominated occupations have less healthy, or ‘dysregulated,’ patterns of cortisol throughout the day,” said study co-author Bianca Manago, a doctoral student in sociology at Indiana University (IU), in a press release.

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Cate Taylor, assistant professor of sociology and gender studies and the other author of this study added, “Our findings are especially important because dysregulated cortisol profiles are associated with negative health outcomes. Thus, our project provides evidence that the negative workplace social climates encountered by women in male-dominated occupations may be linked to later negative health outcomes for these women.”

Data from a 2011 Statscan report shows that the most common occupations for men in Canada include transport truck driver; carpenter; automotive service technician, truck and bus mechanic and mechanical repairer; construction trades helper and labourer; welder and related machine operator; electrician; and delivery and courier service driver. So if you’re a woman working in any of these industries, you may be more susceptible to stress.

And where are female-dominated professions? Among the 20 most common occupations, women accounted for more than 9 out of 10 workers in administrative assistant; registered nurse and registered psychiatric nurse; early childhood educator and assistant; and receptionist.

Though the intent of the IU’s study clearly isn’t promoting a sex-segregated workplace, it does show that as things presently stand, for women, choosing to pursue a career in male-dominated industries has a direct effect on their health.

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