Why do women feel worse at work?

Mikaela Clavel
March 4, 2024
Why do women feel worse at work?

It’s 2024 and, while a degree of progress has been made in making work equal for men and women, our latest data shows that women have lower scores in all important wellbeing factors, such as job satisfaction, engagement, and meaningfulness at work. So why is this?

In 2023, the trend was clear: women report lower levels in all areas of wellbeing at work. Of course, it’s difficult to give a straight answer to why this is the case, but in this article, we’re going to try our best to find explanations. But first, let's look at how we arrive at these results.

Where does the data come from?

In the Winningtemp platform, we can look at data from 50 million responses collected from employees globally and draw interesting insights into workplace wellbeing. There are 9 categories + 11 supplementary categories where employees rank the workplace and themselves, therefore painting a vivid picture of the organisation's and the employees' wellbeing.  

The basic 9 categories are:

- Autonomous

- Personal development

- Leadership

- Meaningfulness

- Participation

- Work situation

- Job satisfaction

- Commitment

- Team spirit

How does it work?

Employees spend about 20 seconds a week anonymously filling out short, automated questions that are sent out regularly. The questions are based on a total of 60 research-based questions. Employees may also be asked follow-up questions to find and investigate deviations.  

The results show...  

When we look at the data from 2023, women report lower results in all categories. The big question here is “Why?” All people are different and so is their work situation, so it’s not possible to come up with a simple answer. As such, we’’ve looked at possible explanations, trends and theories that can provide a clearer picture of the results.

Thesis 1. Do women underestimate their abilities?  

The first question we need to ask ourselves is: do women feel worse, or do they feel about the same as men, but choose to use lower numbers to describe how they feel? To investigate this further, we’ll first look at what the research says about men's and women's perspectives on their own ability, and on their external situation.

Women underestimate themselves

Both women and men seem to have relatively poor self-awareness, but in different directions. Men tend to overestimate their abilities, while women tend to underestimate them. Research has shown this when comparing one's own assessments and those of outsiders and seeing clear patterns. This may explain why women rank lower in the areas that judge them.

Differences between men and women

Could it be that part of the reason has to do with biological differences between women and men? In the classic personality test "The Big 5", five different personality aspects were measured where the results were compared between men and women. Women showed high scores in nurturing and extrovert qualities, and openness to new experiences. At the same time, women also scored higher than men in neuroticism, which means experiencing more anxiety and negative thoughts.  

This could be one reason why men and women look at their workplace from different perspectives.  

Thesis 2. Do women simply feel worse at work?

Here we look more at the second thesis - that women actually feel worse and are less happy in their workplace. If so, what could be the reason for this?

Women have worse working conditions

The fact that there’s a difference in working conditions between male and female-dominated industries is nothing new. But the link between work environment and wellbeing is worth taking a closer look at.  

Swedish research, noted that women in female-dominated industries experience:

  • More shift work with short daily rest. This increases the risk of sleep disorders, type 2 diabetes, back pain, and stroke.
  • Higher psychological demands, such as work requiring too much concentration, or ending up in emotionally difficult situations.  
  • Tense work, which means high demands with low autonomy. It increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and neck discomfort.

Therefore it may not be the case that women perceive their workplace as worse than men - their workplaces ARE in many cases worse for wellbeing than men's workplaces.

Too much responsibility at home and at work

Several studies indicate that women are becoming increasingly ambitious in their careers, while at the same time continuing to take on a lot of responsibility at home. The pandemic seems to have slowed down gender equality efforts, and widened the gaps among men and women regarding who should take care of the home. The scattered responsibility can be a reason for the negative feeling towards one's work.

Lack of flexibility

An American survey in 2023 showed that job satisfaction is higher than it has been in 36 years in the United States, but there are several percent differences between women and men - with women drawing the short straw. According to Deloitte, this may be due to an important part of working life - flexibility. Lack of flexibility in their working hours is one of the main factors why women leave their employers. Still, 97% of respondents believe that asking for better conditions around flexibility in their workplace would hurt their career.

Harassment and injustice in the workplace

A new survey shows that 3 out of 5 women have experienced bullying, sexual harassment or verbal attacks in the workplace. Most people who have experienced any of this also don't report it because of fear that no one will believe them, or because they think it will hurt their careers. Therefore, they experience low psychological safety at a level that does not affect men to the same extent.

Solution? It starts with asking.

With reasons as complex and varied as the ones we’ve laid out, there’s no easy solution. But, if there’s one thing we know, it’s that we need to communicate more. The best way to find out how your employees are doing (and learning why they feel like that) is simply to ask. With short, frequent pulse surveys where you can be anonymous, it becomes easy and safe for employees to respond.

Winningtemp makes it easy for your business to collect honest feedback and get clear data and insights into how employees feel and feel about the workplace. From there, you'll get research-based suggestions on how to handle the situations and turn negative trends into positive ones.

Take the first step to get to know your employees.

About the author
Mikaela Clavel

Focusing on people

If you are interested in finding out more about what Winningtemp can offer your organisation get in contact with our sales team.