Women in STEM ‘more likely to burn out’

Image credit: Andrew Imanaka

A recent study carried out by Daphne Pedersen, Professor of Sociology, and Krista Minnottee, Assistant Professor of Sociology, at the University of North Dakota, illustrated via a survey of 117 people, that women working in university science departments report higher levels of job-related burnout than do men.

‘Burnout’ refers to a situation where the individual is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted in their current position, making it more likely for them to leave. While previous research has illustrated that women leave STEM professions at a faster rate than men, the extent to which burnout contributes to this has not been fully explored until now.

Women responding to Pedersen’s survey reported higher levels of job burnout than men, even when the researchers took into account the rank and tenure status of the respondents and whether they were married or had children.

Professor Pedersen told Times Higher Education that, “Women in STEM face other pressures including isolation, tokenism and lack of support – some of the key predictors of burnout. They are more likely to describe their work environment as ‘competitive’ and ‘chilly’”.

The article in the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy included advice for universities, including a need for open channels of communication in order to aid women relieve the stress.

However, critics claim that the research, which states that a lack of access to information and interpersonal conflict contributes to burnout, wrongly concludes that the problem of burnout lies with the women.

Averil MacDonald, Professor Emerita at the University of Reading and a member of the board of the women in science, technology and engineering (WISE) campaign, which encourages and celebrates the involvement of women in STEM careers, suggests a different approach to alleviating burnout.

“When women move from academia to other careers, they do not feel burnout or the need to move on, which implies that these employers are successful at making all their workers, including women, feel like they fit in”, she said. “There is no need for interventions to change these women to be more like their male colleagues”. 

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