Let’s face it: A lot of people dread going to work, for lots of different reasons. For many women, particularly women of color, work can be another place that creates heightened and persistent negative impacts on their overall mental health. Here are just some of the challenges that women face at work that can cause more stress, anxiety, and lowered feelings of self-esteem.
According to a 2015 survey conducted by Cosmopolitan, one in three women have experienced sexual harassment at work. This can take many forms: from being propositioned by a boss to inappropriate late night texts from a colleague or crude remarks spoken openly in meetings. Following the recent sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein, thousands of women have opened up on Twitter about their own experiences.
These stories of sexual harassment are not new: women have been speaking up about the ways men have sought to intimidate, guilt, and coerce them into sex at work for decades. And the impact that sexual harassment at work has on women should also not be news to anyone. When women feel they have to be polite to men at work, particularly men who have the ability to fire them, it’s easy to feel helpless and powerless. “Sexual harassment is undermining, humiliating and can have a huge effect on mental health,” Frances O'Grady, the general secretary of the Trade Union Congress in the U.K. told the Independent in 2016. “Victims are often left feeling ashamed and frightened. It has no place in a modern workplace, or in wider society.”
Sexism in Tech:
The tech world never seems to stop being rocked by stories of women experiencing discrimination and harassment based on their gender and race. Uber , for example, has seen repeated criticism over reports of sexual harassment, assault, rape, and, in some cases all of the above.
Studies have found that being sexually objectified can lead to “a continuous stream of anxiety-provoking experiences, requiring women to maintain at least part of their concentration on their physical appearance and safety at all times,” according to Emma Rooney, a contributing writer for New York University’s undergraduate online publication.
Further to that, tech is still dominated by white men in the upper ranks, which can limit perspective to an extent that affects a company’s final product. Shireen Mitchell, founder of Digital Sisters and Stop Online Violence Against Women, told Brit + Co earlier this year that people in power in tech sometimes “don’t even realize when they don’t understand the social implications of the technology that they’re creating [for women].”
And then there’s parental leave, which many parents barely get in the first place. When parental leave is an option for working parents who’ve just had a baby, workplace attitudes about a colleague taking parental leave are frequently negative. Women who choose to take time off to spend with their newborns are judged for not being committed enough to work, and those who choose to take less time at home with their baby are judged for not being an attentive enough mom. The criticism and judgement new parents face at work for their parenting decisions certainly adds additional stress. Women bear the brunt of it.
Achieving a healthy balance between (paid) work and the rest of life, which is essential to basic mental health maintenance, can be challenging and sometimes impossible for women. Even in jobs where people are allowed paid time off (which is unfortunately not a universal benefit), women in the U.S. take fewer vacation days each year than men do. That’s according to Project: Time Off (P:TO), an organization dedicated to advocating for more vacation time for employees, which conducted a survey on workers and vacation time earlier this year. The survey found that just 44 percent of women who work 35 or more hours a week and receive vacation benefits used all of them in 2016. Men weren’t too far ahead though, at 48 percent using all of their allotted time.
Apart from the standard stress anyone can expect from a job, many women experience the added burden of sexism — and, for many women of color, racism on top of sexism. This makes time off to get a break from work all the more important. However, a lot of people feel that they just can’t take time off, because it might make them look bad to their bosses, thus compromising their jobs and, therefore, their livelihoods. To combat burnout and help support employees pursue a better work-life balance, some companies are considering adding “mental health sick days” to their benefits.
Interruptions and Mansplaining:
Decades of studies have found that men interrupt women more than the other way around, a dynamic that very much holds up in the workplace and can cause women to feel anxious and lose self-esteem. Men also have a demonstrated tendency to explain things to women, a phenomenon you’ve probably heard described as “mansplaining.” Interrupting and mansplaining often go hand in hand, and in both cases, belittle women’s intelligence and knowledge, making them feel like their opinions and experiences are less valid than men’s.
“There’s still an idea that women should be seen but not heard; that they should wait their turns and act demurely,” founder and president of Beyond the Boardroom Ferne Traeger told Brit + Co last year.
A recent study from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that single women will hide their full work-related ambitions when they’re around men, due to pressures not to seem too ambitious, and therefore unattractive or undesirable. The BCG further found, in a separate study, that women may seem less invested or ambitious at work because they don’t feel supported, and don’t feel as invested in moving up in a company that doesn’t have their needs in mind. Lack of support and the (perhaps subconscious) feeling among women that they can’t appear more ambitious than a man can only add to the mental strains women confront as a typical part of being an employee.
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