An International Perspective on Socioeconomic Changes and Their Effects on Life Stress and Career Success of Working Women

By Yang, Nini | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

An International Perspective on Socioeconomic Changes and Their Effects on Life Stress and Career Success of Working Women


Yang, Nini, SAM Advanced Management Journal


Introduction

The increased participation of women in paid employment while maintaining their traditional roles is a global phenomenon. Although women make up over 40% of the workforce in the West (Economist, 1992), they are still significantly underrepresented in the workplace. In the United States, for example, women have made great strides in entering management positions since 1970, but the proportion of women holding top management positions is less then 3% (Himelstein and Forest, 1997). Similarly, women have done well in obtaining middle management positions in Great Britain but have not succeeded in reaching top management levels. Women constitute only 6% of all British senior managers (Darwent, 1990). Statistics show in study after study that the glass ceiling has not been shattered. Gender-based earning differentials persist in all industrialized countries (Blau and Kahn, 1992; Loprest, 1992). Difficulty in balancing work and family, unequal access to training and promotion, and sex stereotyping and discrimination (see Davison and Cooper, 1987; Heilman, Block and Martell, 1995; Loprest, 1992; Parasuraman, Purohit and Godshalk, 1996; Yang, 1993) continue to be barriers for working women.

Studies on stress and women managers show that although men and women managers do not find much difference in the substance of their jobs, women managers face problems of prejudice and discrimination from co-workers and from the organization as a whole (Davidson and Cooper, 1987). The stressful work situation and work-family conflict reinforce each other and have made women managers subjected to far more pressures at work and at home than their male counterparts. Studies on stress and work-family relationships indicate that work-family conflict contributes to heightened life stress and decreased career satisfaction among women of varied job categories (e.g., Parasuraman et al, 1996; Yang, 1993). According to health research, stress claimants tend to be young and are more likely to be women (Cain, 1986; Wilkinson, 1980).

Given that men, by tradition, have held the majority of leadership positions in organizations, do gender differences automatically favor male employees in the world of paid labor? This is controversial. What is clear is that women's increased participation at work has broadened the horizon of workforce diversity not only to include ethnic and age differences, but also to recognize and value both gender and family structural differences. In today's organizations, flexibility, cross-functional teamwork, trust, and information sharing are rapidly replacing rigid structures, competitive individualism, direct control, and secrecy. Effective managers are those who listen, motivate, and provide support to their people. Recent leadership studies suggest that women are more likely to encourage participation, share power and information, attempt to enhance subordinates' self-worth, and get individual employees to think and act in the interests of their group, (e.g., Eagly and Johnson, 1990; Grant, 1988; Rosener, 1990; Yammarino, Dubinsky, Comer and Jolson, 1997). These characteristics of the feminine leadership style suggest that women may fit better in the new paradigm of the changing work environment and that they are unique and valuable assets to corporate success.

This paper is focused on cultural traditions, socioeconomic changes, and their effects on working women from an international perspective. It reviews the literature and recent research on stress confronting working women in Western societies; compares gender similarities and differences in sources of life stress, work values and goals; and examines stress outcomes as related to both organizations and individuals. Specific issues such as job satisfaction, career success, and personal well-being are explored, and their implications to working organizations discussed.

A Global Background of the Changing Role of Women in Family and Society

In most Western countries, the role of women in family and society is changing radically.

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