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Top of the Corporate Ladder Equals Depression for Many Women

By HERWriter
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Top of the Corporate Ladder Often Equals Depression for Women Beatrice Preve/PhotoSpin

Equal Work for Equal Pay? 21st Century Reality

In our world of female rights and women working to provide for their families in what is still a predominantly male-dominated society, working your way up the corporate ladder may be seen as the pinnacle of a woman’s career.

Much of this generation’s hard-working women have been “trained” to believe that we have to work harder and longer hours, often sacrificing our more innate nurturing and cooperative natures.

Being in a position that involves looking after and dealing with the emotions of others takes a great toll on women. We are naturally empathetic creatures and don’t always like delivering difficult or bad news.

We like to support and encourage, so when a situation comes up that requires us to make a hard decision that affects someone else’s job and the ability to look after their family, we take these things somewhat personally even though the action was necessary. We feel the impact of our decisions and the effect it has on someone else.

But much of our world is still very much male dominated and many women face gender discrimination in the workplace. We're chastised and even demoted when we become pregnant. We have to work longer and harder hours to surpass the performance of male counterparts to prove that we can do the job.

Even when we do this and have earned the right in the hierarchy of a business to take on a leadership role, we may still face fierce competition from employers who still don’t believe a woman can be qualified or capable.

Many women are still being paid less than their male counterparts for the exact same position or level of authority.

All this adds up to greater stress levels, not only at work but in managing a family as well, and can leave female executives more susceptible to depression.

How Male-Defined Authority Affects Stress Levels in Women

Women are nearly twice as likely as men to experience depression, according to MayoClinic.org. About 1 in 5 women deal with depression at some point in their lives most commonly between 40 and 59 years of age, though it can hit at any time.

Interestingly enough, this is about the time women have earned their way to higher positions, have likely entered perimenopause, or are looking over their lives wondering why they haven’t achieved all they had thought they would by this point.

In an article published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, co-author and assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, Tetyana Pudrovska wrote about stressful consequences which can accompany increased job authority that places women in control over others’ work — that is, the ability to hire and fire people, and influence their pay.

Pudrovska said that this situation “may be a source of distinctive stressors, to which women in authority positions are exposed with greater frequency and intensity than men and lower status women.”

Job authority has been defined for centuries by male-centric stereotypical characteristics of power, dominance, competitiveness and ambition. These are in direct contrast to commonly held feminine characteristics of nurturance, empathy and attachment.

Since a woman’s natural tendencies are bucking the trend, it’s harder for women to make the inroads into a society that still views these things as not being authoritative qualities. And, if women do start to emulate and act upon more male authoritative qualities, they are judged for being unfeminine and uppity rather than authoritative.

Jobs of authority are usually accompanied by higher rates of pay, insurance, better work/life flexibility, to name a few benefits, which would seem to improve health and workplace satisfaction.

However, Pudrovska’s study has found that the higher levels of interpersonal stress and conflict inherent in job authority positions actually reduce or even cancel out the positive psychological implications.

Not only that, but attaining these levels of authority also usually come at the price of missing out on some aspects of home life such as family meals, bedtimes and other activities because of long hours.

There is stress from work trying to meet the expectations of coworkers and big bosses, in addition to the actual workload that must be managed. And there is the stress associated with the responsibilities and expectations waiting for them at home at the end of the day.

It’s one of those “you can’t have it all” kind of scenarios and, while for some women it works out, many others experience the emotional drain of trying to meet everyone’s expectations, and it’s often in these kinds of situations where it’s even tougher to engage in stress-relieving activities. We have to be careful in the striving to have it all that we don’t end up losing a part of ourselves and our families.


1) Gender, Job Authority, and Depression. Pudrovska and Amelia Karraker. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. American Sociological Association. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 2014, Vol. 55(4) 424–441. Web. Accessed: Dec 13, 2014.

2) Why female executives get depressed more than men. Wade, Leslie. CNN. Web. Accessed: Dec 13, 2014.

3) Depression in women: Understanding the gender gap. MayoClinic. Web. Accessed: Dec 13, 2014.

Reviewed December 16, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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