Kit Steinkellner
November 24, 2014 12:54 pm

It’s hard out there for a ladyboss.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin asked study participants about their level of “job authority” and if they experienced symptoms of depression, such as feeling sad or thinking their life was a failure.

The study found out that women without job authority (that is, the power to hire/fire/influence pay) experienced slightly more depressive symptoms than men without job authority. But what’s really noteworthy is that women WITH job authority showed a 9% increased rate of depressive symptoms over women without job authority, while men with job authority had a 10% decreased rate of depressive symptoms over men without job authority. Which means, women with more power were way more depressed than men with more power.

Lead researcher and co-author of the study Tetyana Pudrovska marveled at the results:

“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.”

So what’s going on here? Why is it so much more difficult for a woman in an authority position to maintain her emotional well-being?

Dr. Ruth Sealy in London sheds light on our (very gendered) assumptions re: leadership:

“Because we assume men’s ‘natural’ competence as leaders, women often have had to work much harder to get to those positions, only to find that even when they get there, their ‘right’ to that status is continuously questioned.”

Pudrovska puts it this way:

“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.”

So you’re busting your butt for your job and not only did you have to work that much harder than your male counterparts to get where you are, but you continually have to keep proving yourself, all the while worrying if the traditionally masculine behaviors you have adopted in order to climb the career ladder are actually getting you in trouble because you’re always being judged for being “unfeminine,” yet if you only demonstrated your traditionally feminine traits, your ability to lead would be called into question on the regular. Girl, I get it, no WONDER you’re tired, your life is about as Catch-22 as corporate America gets. 

So how are we going to break this cycle of sexist shenanigans? According to Pudrovska:

“We need to address gender discrimination, hostility and prejudice against women leaders to reduce the psychological costs and increase the psychological rewards of higher-status jobs for women.”

Yes and more yes. Companies need to make this a conversation. In addition to a seminar on sexual harassment in the workplace, there needs to be a seminar about straight-up sexism in the workplace. We need to break down what we traditionally consider to be “masculine” and “feminine” traits and drill the importance of giving leaders of all genders access to all these traits without consequence. It’s also important to highlight that traditionally feminine traits aren’t at all antithetical to great leadership. The ability to listen, the capacity to empathize, straight-up patience, these are considered traditionally feminine traits, but I’ll be damned if I also didn’t just describe a grade-A leader.

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