The findings come from a study to be published in December's Journal of Health and Social Behavior, authored by University of Texas at Austin sociologist Tetyana Pudrovska. While over the past few decades, there's been an emphasis on getting more women into leadership roles, "surprisingly little empirical attention has been devoted to women's experiences after they have obtained authority, and whether women automatically enjoyed the benefits on par with men," Pudrovska said.
One area where there's been plenty of research and discussion are gender differences in pay. "It's important to focus on women's experiences, not just income, but psychological well-being, because it's important to get women into leadership and it's important to make sure they stay there," Pudrovska added.
Researchers studied a group of 1,302 white men and 1,507 white women in Wisconsin, who were questioned in 1993, and again in 2004 once they were 65. The subjects weren't given clinical diagnoses of depression, but rather were asked questions linked to 16 depressive symptoms, such as how many days they felt sad or how often they thought their lives had been a failure.
Having authority over the hiring and firing of employees had the biggest negative impact on women's mental health, more so than the ability to influence pay. Part of that stems from the personal nature of having to fire a person. That factor also negatively impacted men, but not as dramatically as it did women.
Pudrovska said women face resistance because people may not view their authority as legitimate, something that other groups may experience as well. "The stress is more pronounced for social groups whose authority is not perceived as legitimate and who may experience lack of support," the study notes.
"We need to emphasize and raise awareness about the social and cultural forces that percolate in the workplace, that make leadership exceptionally stressful [for women] when compared to men," she added.
Women on average have more depression symptoms than men in general, but the researchers controlled for that, as well as differences in socioeconomic backgrounds. The men in the study also worked longer hours and were more likely to have job authority, and they also had more control over their work. Men were more likely to decide their work hours and weren't monitored by their supervisors as much. Job sanctification and the hours spent on similar tasks were the same between the genders.
These findings come at a time when much of the public discourse about women in the workplace has been centered around what they can do to boost their presence in the boardrooms and top levels of management -- namely, whether a lack of confidence is to blame. But Pudrovska's findings illuminate the real barriers women face as they climb corporate ladders, and what happens to them when they do assert themselves. Leaning in can be tough work in an environment that makes you feel depressed about it.