When it comes to mental health problems, all of us don’t face the same level of risk. Mental health is intersectional, which means race, gender, class, and sexuality are crucial determinants of a person’s mental wellness. For instance, while people of all genders are impacted by mental health conditions overall, studies show that women are more susceptible to certain concerns.
Further, there is also a disparity between the mental health challenges faced by women in leadership positions and other working women. This indicates that a top-down approach toward better mental health in the workplace might be insufficient in addressing how women leaders specifically can manage their mental health.
In order to come up with more nuanced solutions for the same, we must first look at why women in leadership positions face unique mental health challenges.
Unique Challenges Faced by Working Women
Prevalent gender roles and norms directly affect several challenges faced by women, which subsequently affect their mental health. Examples of these include:
The gender pay gap
Women and men are compensated drastically differently, even for the same work. Such disparities indirectly render women’s contributions to the company less valuable. Plus, the women who are paid less also become easily replaceable, making their jobs less secure.
Often, women are expected to manage their work and family simultaneously. In a way, this translates to them working two full-time jobs at the same time. Further, prolonged caregiving also leads to burnout, stress, and physical distress, all of which directly affect an employee’s performance at work.
On top of that, women are also usually tasked with non-work planning (parties, picnics, etc.) and caregiving at work since they are assumed to naturally be better at it.
While most women menstruate, period leaves are not commonplace yet. This means that women need to manage work as usual while dealing with periods and its accompanying symptoms, such as cramps, mood swings, and fatigue. Menstruators suffering from conditions like PMDD and PCOS experience more severe health complications during this time. With no period leaves in place, their only other option is to call in sick and make a dent in their leaves.
Lack of representation
Research shows that women - particularly women of colour - are underrepresented in leadership positions. Hence, women in senior management often run the risk of not being taken seriously, and their reputations and responsibilities usually remain confined to what traditional gender roles permit. A lack of representation also results in smaller (or absent) support systems and tokenism, among other deterring factors.
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Mental Health Tips for Women Leaders
Now that we are aware of some of the hardships women leaders have to navigate at work, let us look at a few actionable strategies to overcome them:
Instead of trying to push through, women must take a step back, acknowledge, and communicate when they are feeling burnt out. This way, they can ‘recharge’ themselves and return to work, which is beneficial to their health as well as productivity.
Redefine stress management
Stress management is a long, continuous process. While many employees see it as something instantaneous to tackle stress, it is more effective when one gradually makes changes to their routine over time to create a system that results in fewer stressors.
So, while ‘recharging’ and managing stress, ask yourself what your specific stressors are. Are they one-time or chronic? Are they related to work, family, or both? Is there a gendered component to it (for example, childcare) which is not being addressed adequately?
Being aware of the exact nature of their stressors help women tackle them one at a time, be it structurally or personally, and develop healthy coping strategies.
Delegate and designate responsibilities
Women are conditioned to be multitaskers, to mediate disputes, lend a listening ear to anyone in distress, and take up as much on their plate as possible. While these are great practices, these can also overburden women in management positions with too many responsibilities.
That is where delegating tasks comes in handy. First, remind yourself that you do not have to do everything on your own. Hierarchies and structures are in place at work to facilitate collaborative functioning.
A large part of leadership is knowing who can do what, so come up with a workflow, prioritise your tasks, and designate some of them to specialised teams or individuals. Free up space on your calendar without worrying, as proper delegation can produce amazing results!
Create clear work-life boundaries
Establishing a work-life balance is crucial to better mental health; it also affects job satisfaction.
Set clear time limits on work and come up with direct, measurable goals and expectations. Log out of work accounts and devices during your downtime to avoid the constant intrusion of notifications and the anxiety they can induce. If you do not like discussing work at home or vice-versa, let your colleagues and family know about it.
If work is coming in your way of maintaining meaningful relationships or nurturing your hobbies, it might be time to put some checks and balances in place. At the end of the day, work is simply a part of life, not the entirety of it.