Organisational Culture

Impact of Gender Norms on Well-being in the Workplace


  • Workplace
  • Thought Leadership
March 30, 2020 Dr. Kaisa Wilson

A big part of achieving equality in the workplace for women, is about changing organisational culture. The problem with many conventional change interventions is that they do not take into account the relationship between workplace cultures and individual psychologies, both of which are shaped by wider social norms.

For example, studies regularly report that women express less anger and more happiness at work than men. It would be easy to assume that this difference is due to sex, i.e. that women ‘naturally’ feel less anger than men. However, research on gender and organisational socialisation tells us that emotions (and emotional displays) are shaped and constrained by gender norms and social status. In other words, those higher up the ladder can afford to express anger without negative social repercussions. And of course, the top tiers of most organisations are disproportionately populated by men.

Women’s ability to express a wide range of human emotions in the workplace is limited further by gendered norms about what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour for women. 

The result of these gendered pressures at work are rising rates of self-harm, depression and anxiety in millennial and Gen Z women, both in New Zealand and globally. Young women today are told that they can ‘have it all’ – professional success, a family, a well-rounded life – if they work hard enough and ‘lean in’. But this is not borne out by the reality of living and working in a system in which women are regularly marginalised on the basis of their gender, and as a result women’s well-being suffers. 

Thankfully our understanding of these pressures and how they intersect with organisational culture is growing. In her ground-breaking research, Dr Nilima Chowdhury explored these gendered pressures by investigating the links between the ‘superwoman’ ideal, organisational culture and stress and depression in young professional women in New Zealand. She found that young professional women indeed feel pressured to perform an enormous amount of self- and emotion-management to ‘make it work’ – to counter the harmful and undermining effects of workplace sexism and structural gender inequality by constantly going the extra mile to prove their worth.

Dr Chowdhury has developed a New Zealand-based organisational change project aimed at addressing these issues called Turning the Tide. If you are interested in exploring this further in your organisation go to this website.

At the Gender Tick organisational culture is one of the five key areas we review for accreditation, because we understand how critical this is to achieving equality in the workplace. Organisations who get their culture right attract and retain women employees at higher rates, and once there, women are better able to thrive and fulfill their professional and leadership potential.

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