Does the Unconscious Bias That Women Face in the Workplace Affect Their Mental Health?

Michelle Overman LMFT
March 25, 2019

More women are participating in the workforce than ever before. Women are earning bachelors and even doctoral degrees at a higher rate than men. There are more mothers in the workforce than 20 to 30 years ago. However, women in the workplace are facing unique challenges compared to their male counterparts. While the gender pay gap has shrunk over time, women earned around 85% of what men earned in the United States, which included both full-time and part-time workers (Pew Research Center, 2018). In a 2017 survey from the Pew Research Center, approximately 42% mentioned they have experienced discrimination at work based on gender. Approximately 4 in 10 mothers mentioned that in at some point in their career they had taken substantial time off to care for a child or another family member (Pew Research Center, 2013). These statistics are important because they shed some light on the potential biases women might face in the workplace.

workplace bias

Women still experience a wage gap and there are plenty of factors that can contribute it. A bias that occurs and potentially contributes to this is the difference of personality types related to gender. Assertive women can often be seen as overly bossy or pushy by some people. Women are less likely than men to ask for raises and some reported that even when they do, they are denied those raises. Whether they are less confident or they are assertive, women face a unique challenge when it comes to seeking financial benefits. These biases also contribute to women’s experiences in terms of gender discrimination. While it might be unintentional, those biases can result in unfair treatment for women. Another bias that affects women involves paid leave. With women taking time off to have children and the lack of paternity leave (particularly in the United States), the message to women is they are responsible for carrying the burden of raising a family.

These biases can highly impact women on a practical level but also on a mental level. Women who face these biases might feel like they have to work twice as hard in the workplace. Whether it is feeling the need to overcompensate for missed time or being overtly told to make up time, women might feel the pull to work more and harder. It can cause struggles in motivation or even feeling like you are forced to choose work or family which is a problem women typically face more than men. This can also lead to the mentality that you must prove your worth over and over again in the workplace compared to your male coworkers. This constant need to prove your worth is not only exhausting, but can be discouraging. Overall, these issues can leave women feeling like they cannot be themselves. It can come in forms of suppressing assertiveness, trying to be overly assertive or competitive, or hiding their values. Women, not just men, bring unique qualities to the table. If you feel your specific attributes and strengths are not valued based on gender, it can leave you feeling like you cannot be yourself. It can hurt your self-esteem and also make you feel as if you have to become someone you are not.

Not all workplaces have serious gender discrimination or major problems. Overall, things have improved in the last few decades. However, women still face conscious and unconscious biases that make it difficult for them. It is important to keep the discussion going, continuing to find ways to fight biases and discrimination of all kind.

Michelle Overman LMFT

Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master's in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 7 years.

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