Women Don’t Lack Math Skills, Avoid Post Downsizing Stress Syndrome

May 5, 2009
Women don’t lack math skills, Avoid Post Downsizing Stress Syndrome

Feeling down? Blame PDSS
Those fortunate enough to have held onto their jobs during the economic downturn may experience Post Downsizing Stress Syndrome, a psychological response to a combination of widespread layoffs and high levels of job stress, says a business professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Barry Shore, professor of decision sciences at the UNH Whittemore School of Business and Economics, says many workers are discovering they must adjust to a new organizational culture and management style dubbed command-and-control. “It is a culture that expects those who remain to take over responsibility for the work done by those who have left,” Shore says. “Certainly, those who still hold their jobs feel grateful for being spared, but many also feel threatened, abandoned, burdened with more work, and subject to overall greater job stress.”

According to Shore, the stress that develops in a downsized environment differs from traditional job stress. Employees become obsessed with their plight — it dominates informal discussions in the organization and, as a result, employees turn their focus inward and worry about job security rather than focusing outward on job performance.

The symptoms of PDSS include trouble concentrating on the job, irritability with fellow workers, anger toward management, higher absenteeism, substance abuse, family problems, feelings of mistrust, health problems, negative attitude toward work, and a sense of hopelessness.

To treat PDSS, Shore suggests companies resist the temptation to blindly follow a command-and control approach. Command-and-control can work in the short run, but it stifles individual initiative, commitment, and contribution in the long run. He also suggests companies share the complexities of management decisions and help employees understand the trade-off between survival and job cuts.

Other recommendations include working to improve trust and keeping promises, even when these promises are tough to keep. Also important is a celebration of contributions and involving the workforce in developing new ways to improve old products and processes.

Women avoid careers in math-intensive fields such as engineering not because they lack mathematical ability, but because they want the flexibility to raise children, or because they prefer other fields of science that are less math intensive.

So says a new study analyzing 35 years of research on sex differences in math. The findings appear in the March issue of Psychological Bulletin, published by the American Psychological Association.

Researchers from Cornell University reviewed more than 400 articles and book chapters to reconcile conflicting evidence about math proficiency in women. “Career preferences and lifestyle needs largely dictate why women aren’t choosing physics or engineering as their profession,” said lead author Stephen J. Ceci, Ph.D.

Further, if women enter these fields, they are more likely to drop out before they advance far due to the need for greater flexibility and the demands of parenting and caregiving, said coauthor Wendy M. Williams, Ph.D. “These are choices that all women, but almost no men, are forced to make.”

“Institutional barriers and discrimination ... still cannot explain why women are not entering or staying in STEM careers,” said Ceci. “The evidence did not show that removal of these barriers would equalize the sexes in these fields, especially given that women’s career preferences and lifestyle choices tilt them towards other careers such as medicine and biology over mathematics, computer science, physics, and engineering.”

The evidence shows that if math ability were solely a function of sex, there would be roughly double the number of women in math-intensive careers compared to what exists now, assuming a 2:1 male-female ratio at the top 1% in math ability, Ceci said. “Women would comprise 33% of the professorships in mathintensive fields if it was based solely on being in the top 1% of math ability, but they currently comprise less than 10%.”

Edited by Leland Teschler

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