Under Pressure: The Hidden Impact of Stress on Women in STEM Careers

Women in STEM Stress

As it is Stress Awareness Month this April, we’re highlighting the hidden impact of stress on women, specifically women working in STEM careers. We know that STEM careers can be both challenging and rewarding; through our outreach, we encourage as many young girls and women as possible to consider themselves future scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. 

But we also know that our working lives can often be stressful. In fact, the most common cause of stress is work-related stress. What’s more, recent research has shown that women are more likely to experience stress daily (24.52%) than men (15.33%). The reasons for this are complex, but women spend a disproportionate amount of time on unpaid care and domestic work, often doing this on top of busy working lives. As an under-represented group, women in the STEM workplace face a particular constellation of barriers that frequently compound and generate workplace stress – these include sexism, discrimination and unconscious bias, as well as issues related to childcare and the menopause. 


Check Your Stress Levels 

Occasional stress in the workplace is normal, but chronic stress shouldn’t be. In 2022/3, work-related stress, anxiety and depression was responsible for 17.1 million lost working days, costing the UK billions in lost earnings. Reducing employee stress, which is proven to inhibit productivity, is a business imperative.  


Women Leave Work at Higher Rates than Men  

In 2023, a study revealed that women in the UK are 38% more likely to leave their employer in the next two years than men (for black women it rises to 49%). Women from minoritised ethnic backgrounds are even more likely to leave. 

38% of employers admit they have lost staff due to the impact of menopause symptoms. The menopause is a natural part of women’s ageing, but it can have an array of psychological symptoms, including mood disturbances, anxiety, and depression. 

‘Burnout’ is a term used to talk about a more extreme state of physical and emotional exhaustion, ‘resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’. A large study focused on corporate America, found that a staggering 43% of women leadersare burned out, compared to only 31% of men at their level. It’s worth noting that women leaders are twice as likelyas men leaders to spend substantial time on EDI work. That means that when STEM companies lose women at leadership level, this can have an oversized impact on their broader EDI agendas and progress.  


For almost 70% of people, their manager has more impact on their mental health than their therapist or their doctor – the impact is roughly equal to that of a partner.

Empathetic Management is Key 

As we go through tough times, empathy in the workplace can be a powerful antidote for stress. High empathy in senior leaders has a positive correlation with both with employee engagement and innovation. Perhaps it’s not surprising that empathy is frequently rated as the most important leadership skill. 

82% of women said support from their line manager had a ‘huge’ or ‘significant’ bearing on their decision to stay or leave a job, whilst it is frequently cited as a key reason for leaving. For almost 70% of people, their manager has more impact on their mental health than their therapist or their doctor – alarmingly, the impact is roughly equal to that of a partner.

Stress awareness month is a great time to reflect on what you, as a workplace, can do to reduce the unfair and excessive burdens faced by women and other minorities in the STEM workplace.