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Fiona Lee
  Fiona Lee

Women in Male-Dominated Fields Feel Conflicted

8/27/2004 --

Low identity integration between gender and professional roles is related to higher stress and anxiety.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – If you praise the career choice of a woman in a male-dominated field, chances are she'll respond negatively. But if you discuss the difficulties of multiple roles and responsibilities, she'll more likely defend her situation, according to a recent University of Michigan Business School study.

"The results were the exact opposite of what we expected," says Fiona Lee, professor of management and organizations at the Business School and a professor of psychology. "When they were presented with negative information about being a woman in their field, the study's subjects' identity integration increased and when presented with positive information about being a woman in their field, their sense of integration lessened.''

For this study, identity integration is the degree to which multiple roles or identities are compatible or conflicting. When their level of identity integration increases, their comfort level rises.

When women in the study read a paragraph describing the benefits of being a businesswoman, most reacted negatively. When they read about the downsides of their career, many were compelled to defend their multiple roles.

Lee and colleagues Amy Trahan and Chi-Ying Cheng studied 109 women majoring in business and engineering, including 53 experienced graduate students seeking MBAs. These women filled out surveys designed to see whether their gender and professional identities are competitive or compatible.

The study found that low identity integration, or feeling of conflict between gender and professional identities, are related to higher stress and anxiety.

The researchers say the results show a clear need to address low identity integration for women in male-dominated professions. They say women in such fields would benefit from a bigger focus on overcoming problems in their gender and professional roles rather than the benefits of those roles; more emphasis on incongruent aspects of job training and mentoring; and more mentoring from senior women.

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847