Cultural stereotypes and expectations can create barriers and lead to real health concerns for Latinas in the workplace. Marianismo is one of the primary cultural stereotypes that Latinas face, characterized by an idealized traditional feminine gender role that expects women to be submissive, selfless, and hyperfeminine. These rigid expectations can be overwhelming and create more workplace stress when Latinas do not fit the mold.
Many Latinas in the workplace report feeling as though they are holding themselves back to fit into company cultures that are usually defined by traditionally masculine standards. One study found that 53% of Latinas reported that their workplace personas were defined by conforming to traditionally male standards.
Machismo is the counter-side to marianismo and is characterized by male behavior that is strong, forecul, and dominating. When Latina women are in traditionally masuline spaces, they are expected to submit and follow, not lead. This can be challenging for women trying to get ahead and rise up to leadership positions in male-dominated workplaces.
In a study by the Center for Women Policy Studies, 21% of women of color said they did not feel they were free to be “themselves at work.” Additionally, more than one third of women of color — ranging from 28 percent to 44 percent — feel they must “play down” their race or ethnicity to succeed in their careers.
Negative health consequences of marianismo and cultural stereotypes
For many Latinas, the stress to conform to cultural stereotypes such as marianismo can lead to chronic stress and burnout.
Burnout is categorized as an occupational syndrome, “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Burnout can effect Latinas in industries that promote a capitalist culture of constant productivity, with little regard for one’s mental and emotional boundaries.
In workplace environments like this, Latinas might be expected to shoulder larger workloads with little to no extra compensation. Because cultural expectations, such as marianismo, believe women should be “self-sacrificing” and take care of others, many Latinas might be expected to take on more responsibilities than their other team members.
Many Latinas have also been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, taking on greater caretaking responsibilities, losing jobs, and struggling financially. These factors can also put pressure on Latinas in the workplace to take on more work and ask for little in return for fear of losing the stability of a job and paycheck.
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If unchecked, chronic stress and burnout can lead to health issues such as depression, anxiety, anger, and cynical hostility, adversely influencing cardiometabolic health. One study on Machismo, Marianismo, and Negative Cognitive-Emotional Factors found that Hispanics—the largest U.S. ethnic minority group —are more likely to meet criteria for major depression than non-Hispanic Whites and are also more likely overall to develop diabetes and heart disease. Chronic stress is a contributing factor to the development of these health issues.
Pushing back against cultural stereotypes can be difficult and daunting, but it is necessary to advocate for oneself and for other Latinas in the workplace. When left unchecked, chronic stress can lead to many negative health consequences that no one should have to face. Setting healthy boundaries and speaking up against biases and unfair treatment is crucial to establishing a positive workplace environment for all.
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