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The role of gender in workplace stress: A critical literature review

1 Gyllensten



2 Palmer


Objective The aim of this review was to evaluate research relating to the role of gender in the level of workplace stress. A further aim was to review literature relating to stressors of particular relevance to working women. These stressors included, multiple roles, lack of career progress and discrimination and stereotyping. Design Systematic review. Method Major databases were searched in order to identify studies investigating gender and workplace stress. A range of research designs included and no restrictions were made on the basis of the occupations of the participants. Results Much of the research indicated that women reported higher levels of stress compared to men. However, several studies reported no difference between the genders. Furthermore, the evidence for the adverse effects of multiple roles, lack of career progress and discrimination and were stereotyping was inconsistent.
Conclusion The current review concluded that the evidence regarding the role of gender in workplace stress and stressors was inconsistent. Limitations of the research were highlighted and implications for practice were discussed.

Key words: workplace stress, gender, stressors



Stress in the workplace is a major problem for both organisations and employees, and it has been estimated that approximately 13.4 million working days in Britain is lost per year due to stress, depression or anxiety’. According to the Health and Safety Executive Doctorate 1 student, Department of Psychology, City University.

Honorary 2

Professor of

Psychology, City University, London. Correspondence to: Stephen Palmer, Honorary Professor of Psychology, City University, Northampton Square, London UK EC1V OHB.
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(HSE)’- stress is defined as ’the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. Approaches to stress have distinguished between the concepts of stressor and strain. Environmental factors that may function as sources of stress are called stressors, and the individual’s reaction to the stressors is called strain3. Transactional approaches to stress emphasise the transaction between the cognitive and affective aspects of the individual and their environment4,5. A cognitive definition of stress has been proposed by Palmer, Cooper & Thomas6 as ’stress occurs when the perceived pressure exceeds your perceived ability to cope’ (p.2). The term stress has been conceptualised in a variety of ways and this can lead to confusion regarding the meaning of the term’. The current review will use the stress/stressor terminology employed in the articles reviewed.
Gender and workplace stress Research suggests that working is generally related to positive health for women8,9,IO, and men’. However, as noted previously, workplace stress is a major problem, and it has been suggested that gender may be an important demographic characteristic to consider in the experience of stress&dquo;. While on the one hand it has been reported that there are no differences between women and men in relation to workplace stress12, it has also been noted that there are differences in both stressors and the severity of stress between the sexes9,13,14,15. It has been reported that although women and men are exposed to the same stressors, women are also facing unique stressors’6°’3. Indeed, Hofboll, Geller & Dunahooll suggest that it is important to consider the stressors that are unique to employed women, as this can increase the understanding of the specific needs of working women. This is particularly important according to Hofboll et all’ as several studies have found that the provision of workplace support was more effective in reducing occupational stress in men than in women8,18. Research has reported that women in particular are exposed to the following stressors: multiple roles’9; lack of career progress 20 ; and discrimination and stereotyping2l,??. First, the current review will present and evaluate research that has investigated the role of gender in the level of workplace stress. Second, it will present and evaluate research and theory concerning working women and the stressors of’multiple roles’, ’lack of career progress’ and ’discrimination and stereotyping’. It is acknowledged that men also experience strain from particular stressors, but these will not be discussed in the present review (for further information see Burke23). There have been several reviews of the literature within this area but most of these were conducted during the 1980S8,11,12,14 . A more recent review of the literature was focused on stress and female managers 17. The literature in the current review includes evidence from previous reviews, from research studies and from theoretical accounts.

Limitations with current research
Prior to the review it is important to consider a number of limitations of the research in

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this area. There has been a lack of research investigating women and workplace stress, and many studies of occupational stress have only included male participants 15,17,24 Failure to incorporate women in the research has led to impairment of the accuracy of conceptual models and research findings’. Consequently, it is not possible to draw firm conclusions regarding the role of gender in workplace stress as there is not yet enough research’9. In addition, most of the research treats women as a homogenous group, and rarely includes analyses of race or socioeconomic differences. It has been argued that to gain a clear picture of stressors it is important to disaggregate the population of womens. Unfortunately, there has also been a lack of research investigating stress among women from ethnic minorities’-5. Most of the studies have used a cross-sectional design and can therefore only provide a snapshot of work stress. Finally, most studies have measured stress using self-report questionnaires. Although questionnaires are a useful in measuring stress, it has been argued that it is important to use objective outcome measures as a

supplement to self-report measurements26. stress Level of


No difference between the


analysis of psychological research on sex and gender Deaux 27 concluded that in most research little variance is accounted for by sex. Martocchio & 0’LearylZ conducted a meta-analysis of fifteen studies that had examined gender differences in work stress, and they concluded that there are no gender differences in occupational stress. The authors pointed out that the research used in the analysis had several limitations including lack of information on reliability and validity of the stress measures. It is suggested that these methodological shortcomings could have influenced the results of the analysis. Despite the methodological limitations Martocchio & 0’Leary’-’ (p.500) assert that ’the burden of proof does, however, now lie with those researchers that suggests that sex differences exist’. The Bristol Stress and Health at Work Study 28 was a survey by the HSE of 17,000 randomly selected people from Bristol electoral register. This study in particular is important to consider in more detail in the current review, as the findings should be highly valuable in terms of generalisation as it was based on a large randomised sample of the UK population. It was found that approximately 20 per cent of the participants reported high or extremely high levels of work stress28. The data on demographic and occupational variables from this study was analysed further in a report by the HSE 21. Stress levels were divided up into two groups, high and low stress, and there were no significant differences between men and women overall. Moreover, there were no significant effects of gender in the various marital status groups (married/cohabiting, single, widowed/divorced/separated). The pattern of stress across all age groups was very similar for males and females. Regarding education, there were significantly more males than females in the high stress group for employees without secondary school
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academic qualifications, but there were no significant differences in the other educational groups. In addition, there were significantly more females than males in the high stress group for socioeconomic status group I, and the reverse was found in socioeconomic group 111.2. It was also found that there were significantly more males than females in the high stress group for the lowest salary group. For all other salary groups, however, there were significantly more females than males in the high stress group, and this pattern increased with rising salary Significantly more females than males in full-time employment were in the high stress category. Finally, no significant differences were found between the genders for any of the various job categories. In conclusion, there were no overall significant differences between the genders. Nevertheless, differences were found when the role of education, socioeconomic status and salary were further

analysed 21
A longitudinal cohort on study investigated the effects of organisational downsizing

employees in a Finnish town 30 . The main outcome measure was records of sickness was collected before downsizing, during downsizing, and after downsizing. Participants were 764 municipal employees who remained in their jobs after downsizing. One of the main findings was that sickness and absence was 2.17 times higher after major downsizing than after minor downsizing. The relationship between sickness absence and downsizing was not affected by sex. The methodology of the study had several strengths including the longitudinal design that allowed the employees to be followed during the downsizing process. Another advantage was that the sickness absence data was collected from each organisation, and previous research&dquo; has found that this measure accurately reflects the health of employees&dquo;. Spielberger & Reheiser 32 conducted a study with 1781 working adults, measuring gender differences in occupational stress using the Job Stress Survey (JSS) in American university and corporate settings. The JSS is a reliable measure of stress and it is a useful tool to measure occupational stress as it investigates both the perceived severity and the frequency of thirty stressors. The number of men and women were relatively equal, although, almost twice as many males were in the higher occupational groups, and over twice as many females were in the lower occupational group. It was found that there were no significant differences in the overall stress levels for the two genders, although occupational level was highly significant with managerial/professional participants reporting more frequency of the stressors compared to clerical/maintenance workers. However, Spielberger & Reheiser 32 reported several differences in the perceived severity and frequency of certain stressors. Antoniou, Davidson & Cooper&dquo; conducted a crosssectional study investigating occupational stress, job satisfaction and health state in junior doctors on Athens, Greece. The participants consisted of 193 males and 162 females, and the data was collected using the Occupational Stress Indicator (OSI) including 46 additional items covering work stressors associated with Greek doctors. No significant differences between the genders were found in relation to current state of mental and physical health, and three stressors, ’iniplications of mistakes’, (long working absence and data
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hours’, and ’conflicting job tasks and demands’, were in the top five for both genders.
However, females reported significantly higher levels of stress relating to the stressors of career and achievement and home/work interface, whereas men reported significantly

higher levels of job satisfaction33. A cross-sectional Israeli study investigated stress and burnout in 657 male and female managers and human service professionals (57 per cent of them females) using a self-report questionnaire 18 . No differences between males and females were found in levels of stress at work, but women experienced higher levels of stress and burnout in general life. An American exploratory study of gender and perceptions of work related stress was conducted by Di Salvo, Lubbers, Rossi, and Lewis34. A questionnaire measuring critical incidents of stress was used and 85 females and 63 males, from four professional organisations, completed the questionnaires. The data was analysed using content analysis and no gender differences were found in the overall clusters and there were no significant differences between the genders in the ratings of severity. However, the frequency and causes of stress differed between the genders in four out of the fourteen categories. Moreover, there may be some limitations with the validity of the analysis 34 thus it is uncertain to what extent it is possible to generalise from the findings.
Difference between the genders Jick & Mitzi’ conducted a very well cited review of the empirical evidence of sex differences in stress. Nineteen studies were reviewed and in these studies women tended report higher levels of psychological distress than men. The authors suggest that men and women are likely to be exposed to different stressors, and that gender moderates the relationship between stressors, the appraisal of stressors and coping, and the relationship between coping and strain&dquo;. A further commonly sited review on gender and stress was conducted by Nelson & Quick 14 . The review comprised 99 different studies dealing with the issues of research on women and research on workplace stress. It was concluded that women suffer from more workplace stress than men, because, as well as experiencing stressors common to both genders women also experience certain unique stressors. The specific stressors faced by women included discrimination, stereotyping, marriage/work interface, and social isolation 14 . Both these reviews strongly suggest that gender plays an important role in level of workplace stress. However, it is important to note that the reviews are almost 20 years old and that both reviews used a qualitative method for synthesising the evidence. The Whitehall II study 31 was a longitudinal study of work related factors and ill health in 10,308 civil servants in the UK. In the same way that The Bristol Stress and Health at Work Study2l was important, The Whitehall II Study provides important information about stress as it is a large scale longitudinal study with a large sample of British employees. It was found that women in the two highest graded job categories had the highest level of problem drinkers. This relationship between occupational grade and problem drinkers was not apparent in the male sample. According to the HSE31 to 275
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national data also supports this finding. Level of psychiatric disorder, as measured by the General Health Questionnaire, was higher in women than in men in five out of the six occupational groups. High job demands and receiving low support were related to an increased risk of psychiatric disorder for both gendersj~. Bogg & Cooper 3-1 conducted a study, with 1051 British civil servants, in which gender differences in occupational stress and strain were investigated. The OSI was used to measure job satisfaction, mental health and physical health. It was found that the female participants were signiticantly more job dissatisfied, and had poorer mental and physical health compared to the male participants. They were also more concerned about their role at work, and the work and home interface. The male participants were mainly affected by level of control at work and their achievement oriented behaviour35. A qualitative study investigated job stress in twelve managers in the English National Health Service 31. Semi-structured interviews were used to collect the data and two core categories were found, ’the fit manager’ and ‘the unfit manager’. It was further reported that female managers were more at risk from managerial stressors compared to male managers. The managers that were most psychologically fit used a combination of male and female attitudes and behaviours to cope with stress 36 An Australian cross-sectional study investigated stress, mental health, and leadership styles, in 60 female and 60 male managers in male and female dominated industries. Male dominated industries included academia, automotive industry, IT, accounting consultancies and the timber industry. Female dominated industries included childhood education, nursing and hair dressing. The female and male participants were not matched. Job stress was measured using three scales from the Survey of Work Pressure and the GHQ was used to measure mental health. Women reported overall higher levels of job stress than men, but did not experience worse mental health. Female managers in male-dominated industries reported the greatest level of pressure from discrimination. It is concluded that the gender and the gender ratio of the industry influence stress, leadership style and mental health among managers. The authors highlight that the findings need to be replicated, and due to the small sample size there are limitations as to the ability to generalise to other male and female dominated industries&dquo;. Davidson & Cooper&dquo; conducted a study investigating occupational stress in managers in various work sectors within the UK. Initially, 60 female managers were interviewed, and then 696 female managers and 185 male managers completed a stress questionnaire, based on the findings from the interviews and previous research. Stress outcomes were measured using the GHQ, drug use and job satisfaction. It was found that female managers reported higher levels of stress than male managers, and they also experienced higher pressure levels than men from the work, home/social and individual arenas38. Davidson, Cooper & Baldini39 studied stress in 126 female and 220 male graduate managers using the OSI. The female participants reported significantly higher scores on the seven subscales relating to sources of pressure compared to the male participants. The female managers were also more at risk of physical and mental
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ill health and had lower job satisfaction scores. The authors conclude that the female managers are under considerably more pressure than their male counterparts39. A study investigated stress, job satisfaction and organisational climate in 2500 medical practitioners and auxiliary personnel in Germany40. Job stress and dissatisfaction was measured using a 12-item questionnaire developed from previous work by the authors. Participants were randomly selected from national listings and 5000 were sent a questionnaire. It was reported that female doctors perceived higher levels of work stress compared to their male counterparts, and that female auxiliary personnel reported lower levels of stress compared to the male auxiliary personnel. A limitation of the study that had an effect on the generalisability included a low response rate. Conversely, a great strength of the study was the large randomised national sample that appeared to be relatively representative of the medical profession in Germany40 . A quasi-experimental study investigated the effects of a mentoring programme for US magistrate judges on stressors, strain and coping41. It was found that in both the experimental (n=20) and control group (ii=17) the female participants reported significantly higher levels of stressors and strain, measured by Osipow’s Occupational Stress Inventory-Revised, and significantly lower levels of coping skills compared to the male participants. Because of the small sample size the results should be treated with caution41. These studies highlight the importance of considering occupational groups in workplace stress. Indeed, it has been found that characteristics of specific

occupations are important in stress’2. Miller, Greyling, Cooper, Lu, Sparks & Spector’3 conducted a cross-cultural study of occupational stress including participants from South Africa, UK, USA and Taiwan. The participants consisted of 822 managers and data was collected using the OSI-2.
The interaction between country and gender was investigated but only a few significant differences were found. Considering the sample as a whole it was found that there were differences in strains, with females experiencing significantly lower levels of psychological and physical wellbeing compared to men. It was suggested that this difference could be a function of women being more willing to report or being more aware of symptoms than men. Regarding experience of stressors only one significant difference was found between the genders, with women experiencing more stress from organisational climate. The authors point out that a limitation of the findings is that they come from the combination of four different data sets. As almost no differences between men and women were found on work stressors the authors concluded that the research did not find support for gender differences in occupational stress43. Contrary to all of the previous studies presented in this section, which reported higher levels of stress among women, a study conducted by Swanson, Power & Simpson‘~ found that male medical doctors experienced more occupational stress and less job satisfaction than their female counterparts. In this study the Occupational Stress Inventory was completed by 547 Scottish general practitioners and 449 consultant doctors, during a period when the Scottish Health Service was in the process of structural
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changes. A strength of the study was that the sample was randomly selected from the national register of GPs and consultants, and the responders were representative of GPs and consultants in Scotland. It should also be noted, as with all cross-sectional studies, that it only provides a snapshot of levels of occupational stress and job satisfaction44. Finally, it is important to note that this is the only study identified within the current review which reports higher stress levels among men than women.

Sources of


stress - stressors



are rising, the potential conflicts between the demands of family and career are also increasing - these conflicts being well documented for both women and men45. Work and family conflict, as a stressor, has been related to negative consequences including reduced life satisfaction, lower mental health, and decreased productivity, and it is therefore of great concern for both organisations and individuals46,47. Although, there have been big changes in family structure and women’s labour force participation, there have been only minor changes in responsibility for domestic chores. Women continue to be responsible for the majority of domestic chores and are therefore experiencing the stress of coping with a double dayI7.48,49. Women are also more likely to take on other family-related roles such as caring for elderly parents, and finding appropriate childcareI7,so.

As the numbers of dual-earner households

Multiple roles as a stressor

Langan-Fox 51 proposes that the more roles an individual is involved in, the higher the potential for stress. According to Nelson & Burke 47 women are particularly likely to suffer from role overload (conflicting demands from different roles). Nelson & Quick&dquo; conclude from their review of the literature, on stress and women, that the career-family conflict is one of the main sources of stress for working women. Similarly, Davidson & Cooper 18 found that female managers reported greater pressure than men from work and home stressors. McDonald & Korabik’6 investigated stressors and coping in 19 male and 20 female managers in Canada. It was found that work and family interfaces were more often sources of stress among the female participants than among the male. Although both the qualitative (description of stressful experiences) and quantitative methods (work-stressor questionnaire) resulted in similar findings, the authors suggest that the findings should be treated with caution due to the small sample size. In Davidson et al’s3~ study it was found that female managers reported higher levels of stress on the home/work interface compared to the male participants. Greenglass, Pantony & Burkes2 conducted a study with 555 teachers investigating the relationship between work stress, social support and role conflict, the latter referring to the conflicting pressures from two or more sources. The role-conflict scales were used and it was found that role conflict was significantly higher in women than in men,
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and women had more role conflict between their work role and each family role. The results suggested that job stress was related to role conflict more often for women than for men52. An American study compared gender differences in the antecedents and consequences of work-family con fliCt4l . The participants consisted of 109 women and 131 men. To be included in the study the participants had to be married with somebody who worked full-time, have children living at home, and be in a managerial or professional job. The data was collected by a survey instrument consisting of various standard scales investigating the following concepts: work and family involvement, work and family expectations, work and family conflict, role-strain, quality of work life, quality of family life, and life satisfaction. Significant differences were noted in eleven out of seventeen gender comparisons. It was found that it was more difficult for women than for men to achieve control over competing demands generated from the various roles. It was stated that ’professional women are expected to be committed to their work just like men at the same time that they are normatively required to give priority to their family

roles&dquo;’ (p.71 ).

Mliltiple roles as a source of wellbeing The literature presented in the previous section suggests that multiple roles is a source of stress. However the effects of multiple roles are ambiguous and it has been suggested that multiple roles can be a source of wellbeing. According to Rodin & Ickovics5° it has been suggested that being involved in multiple roles expands possible resources and rewards, such as different sources of self-esteem and social support. However, it is pointed out that not all roles are good for women, and that the nature and the quality of the experience within the roles are important factors to consider in relation to women’s wellbeing5°. Malley & Steward assume that work and family roles may be sources of both strength and stress. One advantage of women having multiple roles is that the dissatisfaction in one role is not as important as a more rewarding role can create a balance. However, it is recognised that there may be a problem, when a new role is added, if the woman is not able to relax the level of expected performance in the various roles9.
Lack of career progress

The glass ceiling The workplace is often portrayed as gender neutral by management, but evidence suggests that gender bias exists, and this bias contributes to working women’s unique stressors 17. Lack of career progress has been suggested as a major source of work stress for women and it has been linked to negative health consequences and reduced satisfaction 13, 14. Women are still not properly integrated in many organisational systems 17 , and there is evidence that women face a’glass ceiling’ within the workplace. The glass ceiling refers to a subtle but powerful barrier that limits women’s career advancement to top management in big organisations&dquo;,’ . Studies have found that
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women are

less likely to be promoted than



professions such as engineering and

even in traditional female Davidson & Cooper&dquo; conducted a study with 940 British managers and professions-5’. it was found that women were more likely to work in lower level management compared to men. Contrary to the Inale managers the female managers were likely to be the first individual of her sex to hold that position. Cox & HarquailS7 investigated the relationship between gender, career paths, and career success in 502 female and male MBAs. It was found that the female managers and male managers did not differ on overall promotions and career satisfaction. However, the female managers experienced lower salary increases, less management promotions, and lower hierarchical levels in comparison to male managers with similar education, experience, age, performance and career path5’. However, not all research has found evidence for a glass ceiling effect. Powell & Butterfield58 examined the role of gender in the promotion (to top management) decisions for US federal government. In contrast to hypotheses, it was found that gender worked to women’s advantage, although the greatest effect upon promotion was an applicant’s employment in the hiring department5S..

medicines4,55. In addition, management is male dominated

boy network’ Women are underrepresented in the levels of the organisation where the decisions are made, and the informal networks where many power transactions occur are often closed to women’. Corporate politics may be specifically stressful for women because of the lack of opportunities to gain experience in the exercise of power and the exclusion from the social informal networks’’. Women’s difficulties in finding mentors, their social isolation, and lack of career advancement have been linked to the incapability to access the ’old boy network’ which included activities important for recognition and advancement in many organisations 17,14,59. Brass-’° conducted a study investigating gender differences in networks, interaction patterns, and influence in organisations. It was found that participants’ positions in interaction networks had a strong association with levels of influence. Women were rated as less intluential than men, and were not well-integrated into men’s networks including the most senior network. In a follow-up it was found that promotions were significantly related to level of inclusion in the dominant interaction networkS21.

Tlze ‘old

Discrimination and stereotyping In the Supreme Court (in an Amicus Curiare Brief in the case Price Waterhouse v Ann B Hopkins) the American Psychological Association 21 stated on the basis of five decades research on sex stereotyping, that evaluation of women’s work performance is commonly attributed to factors not relating to ability. This has a vital effect upon women’s career progress and organisational rewards. Moreover, it was stated that women tend to be punished when they act in a manner that is viewed as not fitting into sex-related expectations. According to the American Psychological Association-’’ (p. 1063) ’research
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conducted in the past 15 years has systematically revealed the cognitive structures of sex stereotypes and the psychological process by which they influence behaviour, including behaviour in the workplace’. A study investigated stressors and coping in 19 male and 20 female managers in Canada&dquo;. It was found prejudice and discrimination were more often sources of stress among the female participants than among the male. Similarly, Bhatnagar59 states that men and women of comparable competence are not evaluated or rewarded in an equal manner, rather women tend to be underrated, but it is concluded that further research is needed in order to investigate the stressful effects of this discrimination. In a study Nlartell, Parker, Emrich, Crawford & Swerdlin&dquo;° investigated sex stereotyping in the perceptions of executives. An executive attribute inventory was developed and the participants, 123 male managers, each rated one of four groups - women middlemanagers (MMs), men MMs, successful women MMs, and successful men MMs. Sex differences were reported on all but one of the attributes, with men being favoured. The results provided support for sex stereotyping on the attributes related to successful executives. The authors suggested that the findings help to explain why few women executives exist. It was demonstrated that women in MM are perceived to be lacking what is needed to succeed as an executive. This perception may have a negative influence on performance ratings and promotions&dquo;’. Similarly, Fielden & Cooper’ suggest that the belief that women lack what is needed to succeed is often accountable for the discrimination women managers experience in the workplace. In Davidson et al’s39 study, described earlier, women scored significantly higher than men on the subscale relating to pressure from discrimination and prejudice. Moreover, when the data was analysed using multiple regression with job satisfaction and current state of health as dependent variables it was found that the’pressure from organizational structure and climate’ was the strongest predictor variable for the female participants. The authors suggest that this finding is in accordance with the problems linked to ‘old boy network’ culture inherent in many organisations. Hofboll et al 17 propose that there are conflicting expectations of women in the workplace. On one hand they gain approval if they convey traditionally female characteristic such as warmth and expressiveness, but on the other hand they must behave in an individualistic power-centred manner if they want to succeed professionally 17. In addition, there is still a wage gap between the genders. Less qualified women earn less than comparably qualified men61, and having lower salaries has been reported to be a stressor for females 14. Sexual harassment in the workplace has been identified as a significant job stressor for woinen&dquo;’. Sexual harassment has been defined as ‘any behaviour of a sexual nature that an individual perceives to be offensive and unwelcome’12 (p.265). Women report more sexual harassment compared to men, and women working in traditionally masculine occupations are particularly likely to experience this stressed. A study 22 investigated sexual harassment experiences, coping and psychological outcomes of 747 women employed in the private-sector and at universities. Sexual harassment
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experiences were measured with The Sexual Experiences Questionnaire, and it was found that low-level but frequent experiences of sexual harassment had negative effects on psychological wellbeing. Multiple-group discriminant function analyses indicated women who had experienced low, moderate and high levels of harassment and those who had not experienced any harassment could be ordered on the basis of their psychological (mental health index, Post traumatic stress disorder symptoms) and jobrelated outcomes (job-satisfaction measurements). High levels of harassment were related to the worst outcomes, and no harassment was related to least negative outcomes. Interestingly a majority of the women who had experienced harassing behaviour in the workplace answered’no’to the question asking if they had experienced sexual harassment at their present workplace 21. Similarly, Morrow, McElroy & Phillips6j found that women who had experienced harassing behaviour at work reported higher levels of stress than women who had


Work stress and
There is


from ethnic minorities


a lack of research investigating work stress and ethnic minorities~~2‘~. Nevertheless, it has been reported that perceived discrimination is a stressor for individuals from ethnic minorities&dquo;. Mirrashid i25 compared stress and social support

between white women and women from ethnic minorities. The study found no significant differences between the two groups in the level of work stress or work/family conflict. Similarly, white women and minority women experienced the same levels of perceived co-worker support. However, minority women experienced significantly lower levels of organisational suppor t25. Snapp65 interviewed 100 black and 100 white professional women to explore occupational stress, social support and depression. Women were not randomly selected for the study, rather women were recruited in accordance to the objective of the study. The interview instrument included both closedended and open-ended questions, and depression was measured with ’the Centre for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale’. The data was analysed using multiple regression and it was found that there were multifaceted differences in occupational stress levels, social support and depression across race, class, background, supervisory status, marital and parental status. For example, it was found that white women reported more support from co-workers than black women65.

Implications for practice
Although no clear conclusions could be drawn on the basis of the research reviewed in this paper it may still be relevant to consider implications for practice in relation to the possible effects of the highlighted stressors, multiple roles, lack of career progress, and discrimination and stereotyping. On the basis of research evidence the HSE 66 has presented new stress management standards that recommend good practice in six key stressor areas: demands, control, support, relationships, role, and organisational change. The first step is to conduct a
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risk assessment of the organisation’s state. In accordance with this approach Nelson & Hitt67 suggest that in order to develop policies and programmes, aiming to improve women’s health, it is important to understand the stressors working women are facing. When conducting HSE risk assessments within organisations it could be useful to also be aware of the possible stressors reviewed in this article. If risk assessments highlight that employees are suffering from any of these stressors it is important that steps are taken to reduce or eliminate these hazards 68 Flexitime within the workplace could allow women and men to deal with home conflicts and thereby reduce the pressure from multiple roles67. Women still have most of the responsibility for childcare’7. Allowing greater flexibility for both genders could encourage men to take more responsibility for childcare, therefore reducing stress for working women and possibly improve the overall quality of family life. Another option could be to introduce more corporate childcare facilities as this could ease the home/work conflict for working parents67. Programmes could be introduced to support the practical implementation of equal opportunities policies aiming to reduce discrimination. Such programmes could encourage an open dialogue about discrimination and highlight the organisation’s commitment to equal opportunities. Moreover, reduction of workplace discrimination would most likely improve career opportunities for women. Finally, mentoring programmes could be a great source of support for working women and, ultimately, help them break through the glass

The current review has presented and evaluated research investigating the role of gender in the level of workplace stress. Moreover, it has reviewed the literature relating to several stressors reported to be particularly relevant for working women - multiple roles, lack of career progress, and stereotyping and discrimination. It is important to highlight a number of limitations within the current review and the field of occupational stress research. The meaning of the concept ’stress’ varied between the studies, and this review has adopted the terms as they were used in the individual articles and chapters. Moreover, it has been suggested that personality characteristics may contribute to the experience of stress’, but this aspect of stress was not discussed in this review. Most of the studies used a cross-sectional design and only used questionnaires to measure stress. Bogg & Cooper 35 suggest that ideally stress research should adopt longitudinal designs involving quantitative (psychological and physiological measures) and qualitative methods. In addition, several of the studies were conducted in different countries and it is uncertain to what extent it is possible to generalise these findings between countries. Another issue that has been highlighted is that there are difficulties making appropriate gender comparisons in work stress research, as males often hold more senior positions than females&dquo;. Furthermore, there is an imbalance in the level of attention various groups of working women have received
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from researchers; with women from ethnic minorities receiving little attention24, and I., female managers receiving a lot. In conclusion many of the studies suggested that gender played an important role in the level of work stress, with women experiencing higher levels of stress than men. However, several of the studies and reviews suggested that gender was not an important factor in the level of workplace stress. Moreover, the quality of the studies and the ability to generalise from the studies varied greatly on both sides of the argument. Consequently, considering the evidence presented in the current review, it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions regarding the role of gender in the level of workplace stress. The literature concerning stressors suggested that multiple roles, lack of career progress, and discrimination and stereotyping were more common for women than for men, and had a negative impact upon women in particular. However, it is important to highlight that the research was not conclusive regarding the negative effects of these stressors. Finally, it may be useful if further variables are considered in future research/reviews examining the role of gender in workplace stress. Variables that may be important to consider include occupation, education, ethnicity, culture, age, socioeconomic group, social support, rank, personality variables, family roles and responsibilities.



2 3

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