Given the multitude of stressors in today's workplace--inadequate resources, long work hours, increasing work demands, and lack of recognition to name just a few--it's not surprising that more than half of American workers report being dissatisfied with their jobs. However, these rather obvious stressors account for only part of the stress high octane women experience in the workplace. Gender-biased workplace stressors are often the most difficult to cope with and to combat, largely because they're often invisible.
Unlike first generation gender discrimination (intentional acts of bias against women), women in today's workforce, especially those working in traditionally male-dominated fields, are experiencing a much more camouflaged foe--second generation gender biases that are impeding their advancement and adding stress to their lives. According to researchers at the Center for Gender in Organizations (CGO), second generation gender biases are "work cultures and practices that appear neutral and natural on their face," yet they reflect masculine values and life situations of men who have been dominant in the development of traditional work settings. These deeply entrenched gender-biased dynamics exist in our culture, norms, and organizational practices and directly impact hiring decisions, promotion, and salaries.
One common gender-biased dynamic is the way in which leadership tends to be judged in the workplace. "Good" leaders are expected to be strong, confident, and assertive. Yet, when women act strong, confident, and assertive, they're often perceived and judged as uncaring, self-promoting, and aggressive. And when they act in more collaborative ways, they're viewed as not possessing "good" leadership skills. It's a classic double bind.
Another common dynamic that works against women in the workforce is how they are compared to a traditonally masculine ideal. For example, most businesses today have policies that, at least on their face, appear to be sensitive to work/life balance issues (paid family leave, flex schedules, etc.). However, favor is still shown to those workers whose work habits encapsulate what most companies view as an "ideal worker"--that is, someone who puts work before family, who can work long hours, and who doesn't take much if any time off for personal matters. Because most women are still primarily responsible for child care, family care, and home care responsibilities, the edge often goes to males who don't have or don't typically assume these non-work types of responsibilities.
A third example of gender bias in the workplace is gender stereotyping. Gender stereotypes are "false representations or misrepresentations of reality based on gender that unconsciously govern our thoughts and actions." Gender stereotypes can have a powerful influence over the way women are viewed by their colleagues, both male and female. For instance, women are typically viewed as having better "taking care" skills (supportive, encouraging) whereas men are generally viewed as having better "take charge" skills (problem-solving, assertiveness, influence).
Although such gender-biased views are often inaccurate, their existence in the workplace colors the way men and women are treated, judged, and promoted. In fact, gender stereotypes and double binds often work hand in hand. For example, when a woman's performance is measured in stereotypical ways (supportive and encouraging), it often places her in a double bind (she's judged as more personable and better liked, but seen as less competent). The opposite is true as well (women who are viewed as strong, assertive problem-solvers tend to be judged as competent, but overly aggressive and unlikable).