Discrimination occurs in many areas of business and can be related to age, race, religion, and sexual orientation. Gender discrimination is another form of discrimination that still exists in the workplace. Although it may be more subtle than some other forms of prejudice, gender inequality can have significant negative mental health effects.
Most of the existing research on gender inequality relates to the assignment of tasks, power, and pay. Researchers want a different perspective on how gender discrimination and more specifically, gender equality and lack thereof, affects mental health among across a range of fields. Sofia Elwer of the Department of Public Health and Clinical medicine at Umea University in Sweden recently led a study that considered workplace environment and ratio of male to female employees. She used this information as a backdrop to responses obtained from 715 workers. Elwer’s primary goals were to identify the gender patterns and ratios in the workplace, and to see how these patterns influenced psychological well-being and distress for men and women.
The results of Elwer’s analysis revealed that in the workplaces with significant gender inequality, women, but not men, experienced high levels of psychological distress. Some of the factors that affected the distress were paid parental time off for sick children, pay and work assignments. Although none of these specific factors were examined independently, looking into their unique relationships with distress could add support for the negative effects of workplace gender inequality.
Further, these results show that men and women have similar levels of mental well-being in gender equal environments. Therefore, certain considerations should be weighed when looking at policies within the workplace, especially workplaces that are traditionally gender unequal. Elwer added, “In order to reduce differences in mental health outcomes for women and men, health policies need to consider gender equality at the workplace level as a social determinant of health.”
Elwér, S., Harryson, L., Bolin, M., Hammarström, A. (2013). Patterns of gender equality at workplaces and psychological distress. PLoS ONE 8(1): e53246. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053246
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