By: Jason Sahlani, who is an editorial intern at Business Information Group In Toronto.
New research shows that women who work under female supervision report as much as 20 per cent more psychological and physical symptoms than their male-managed counterparts.
Conducted by University of Toronto professor Dr. Scott Schieman, study findings were published in the September, 2008 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Raw data comes from a 2005 survey of 1,800 people working in the United States, who were asked if they had experienced any psychological distresses (such as sadness, insomnia, anxiety or tension) or physical symptoms (including headaches, backaches or stomach pain) within the previous seven days.
“The reported levels of distress for women working under a single female supervisor were higher than women who worked under a single male supervisor,” Dr. Schieman says. “Moreover, women who worked under a mixed-gender pair of supervisors [one male/one female] indicated a higher level of distress and physical symptoms than their counterparts with a male supervisor,” he says, adding the differences were “statistically significant.”
The response from men is another story. Men working under a single supervisor, regardless of gender, have similar levels of distress, but cite lower levels of distress and fewer physical symptoms when reporting under a mixed-gender managerial team.
While researchers Dr. Schieman and Ph. D-candidate Taralyn McMullen did their best to rule out factors that could skew results, such as job sector and work conditions, no study can do it all, says Dr. Schieman. There may be some variables that were missed, he notes, such as women clustering in sectors that are undervalued or under-resourced, including health care.
Irmajean Banjok, director of international affairs and best practice guidelines for the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario in Toronto, agrees that sectors with a high percentage of female workers, like nursing, can lack funding or resources. “In a situation like that, it can be a bit of a double-whammy where a female leader is overworked and must adjust to working with an overworked female front-line staff [member],” Banjok says.
Another variable Dr. Schieman points to is that women who have female managers may perceive that a female supervisor will be more supportive, filling what amounts to a mentoring role. Those expectations, however, may be unrealistic.
Mary Ann Baynton, director of Mental Health Works at the Canadian Mental Health Association in Ottawa, says “some of it might be the perception or expectation that women naturally should be nurturers and should be understanding, while we may not have the same expectations of men.”
There is also the possibility that some women are generally not supportive of other women in the work force, says Beth Parker, president of the Canadian Association of Women Executives and Entrepreneurs, and a communications consultant in Toronto. Parker says some women in managerial positions who worked through male-dominated systems, without being given any breaks, may think, “I didn’t get a break, so why should she?”
I found this article in the OH&S Canada magazine, December 2008 edition and was quite intrigued with the research Jason was able to collect to produce such an excellent view of an on-going stressor in the workplace.
Myself, I have worked for both men and women and found the old-boy networks to be the least productive. It has been my experience to spend numerous years relating to “I am better than you” supervisors, (mostly men) and then was relieved to meet the next step in management evolution, the new, better educated supervisor-come-middle management. Their education allowed them their position and their new approach to management made things easier around the office. (I am semi-retired and still keep in touch with my last General Supervisor) These new managers know they earned their position, not won their position.
I also have the opportunity to work for women and found them more than capable. Running up against the old boys club can be a stressor in itself, as well as juggling a family. Picture this, a mother, husband, chauffeur, a soccer or hockey mom, (or both) and a supervisor. Think of the stress a young woman has in an old boy’s club atmosphere!
In closing, I had to say that Jason’s article was worth printing and as a trainer in health and safety, I understand stressors in the workplace. The new supervisor, whether a man or woman, needs to know his/her responsibilities under the ACT, his/her responsibilities to the company as well as his/her responsibilities to the family. Jason has researched and written an excellent article that needs to be added to the supervisor orientation process for a few companies, especially those hiring more and more women as supervisors.
Remember — In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”
‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.
Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.