Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Effects of Sexism on Women Miners' Mental Health and Job Satisfaction

In the mining industry, women make up only 19.4% of the workers in Canada, 16.4% in Australia, and 13.3% in the USA (Catalyst, 2015). In the present research, we investigated women’s experiences of sexism in this male-dominated industry and how these experiences related to women’s mental health and job satisfaction.

We surveyed 263 women miners from an Australian-based mining company that has operations in Australia, Africa, South America, and South East Asia. Participants responded to items about sexism, sense of belonging, mental health, and job satisfaction. 

Our research focused on two types of sexism: organizational sexism and interpersonal sexism. Organizational sexism refers to structural inequalities in an organization that are connected with opportunities for promotion and career progression, job stability, training, pay, competence, work-life balance, and performance standards. We found that women miners who felt relatively disadvantaged on these dimensions reported poorer mental health and job satisfaction. Hence, a potential strategy to improve women miners’ mental health and job satisfaction may be to reduce their perceived and actual disadvantage on these dimensions. This might be achieved through a combination of structural changes in the workplace (e.g., more opportunities for women miners’ career progression) and/or greater transparency in the gender-based similarities on these dimensions (e.g., publication of workforce statistics demonstrating equality of pay).

Interpersonal sexism refers to inappropriate images of women in the workplace, sexual harassment, and sexist comments. Like organizational sexism, interpersonal sexism was negatively related to mental health and job satisfaction. Interpersonal sexism is more ingrained in wider intergender relations in society, and addressing interpersonal sexism effectively is likely to require a partnership between employers and (male and female) employees.

A third variable that was associated with women miners' mental health and job satisfaction was sense of belonging in the industry. This variable mediated the effects of organizational sexism on job satisfaction. Hence, an additional approach towards improving women miners’ job satisfaction may be to increase their sense of belonging. An increased sense of belonging may be achieved by promoting community events both within the female group of miners (i.e., as a group of “women miners”) and within the industry as whole (i.e., women identifying as “miners”).

We also found some interesting cross-country differences. Women who worked at Australian mine sites reported significantly less organizational and interpersonal sexism and fewer mental health problems than did women who worked at African, South American, and South East Asian worksites. These differences may reflect cross-cultural differences, with Australia’s more progressive Western culture prescribing less sexism and better mental health practices in the workplace.

It is important to note that our study’s cross-sectional correlational design prevents clear conclusions regarding the causal direction of the associations between the variables that we studied. Future research may wish to use longitudinal research designs to address this issue.

For further information about this research, please see the following journal article:

Rubin. M., Subasic, E., Giacomini, A., & Paolini, S. (2017). An exploratory study of the relations between women miners’ gender-based workplace issues and their mental health and job satisfaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. doi: 10.1111/jasp.12448 

For an open access self-archived version, please click here.