By Claire Zillman
April 20, 2017

In an interview with the BBC, Virgin Money CEO Jayne-Anne Gadhia, one of the U.K.’s most prominent businesswomen, broke one of the lingering taboos for corporate chief executives when she spoke openly about her depression.

For the first time, Gadhia publicly revealed her struggle with postpartum depression following the 2003 birth of her daughter.

“[My husband] had given up his job and we had only me earning, a new mouth to feed and I remember feeling completely out of control because what I wanted to achieve—that is, packing up work and staying with my child—was unachievable,” she said.

Gadhia said she felt “hopeless” at a time when people expected her to be “happy and thrilled.” She eventually consulted a doctor and clinical tests confirmed that her depression was serious.

Working shorter hours and exercise helped put her life back into “balance.” The year she implemented a healthier work-life balance was also the year when she earned the highest bonus of her career.

Few corporate executives—especially female ones—have talked so candidly about their mental health. Yet women with in positions of authority exhibit more depressive symptoms than women in other jobs, according to a 2014 study by researchers at University of Texas at Austin. The opposite is true for men.

Tetyana Pudrovska, who co-authored the study, told me she attributes the findings to “the problem of legitimacy” that women confront in the workplace. They “face resistance, since their power is not consistent with what we think the norms are,” she said. Women in power are also caught in a “double bind,” expected to express both femininity and assertiveness. If they fail to balance those two qualities, they’re criticized for either being too docile and incompetent or too bossy.

Meanwhile, men benefit from job authority since their power is considered legitimate and natural. “They don’t have to overcome as much resistance and stereotypes,” Pudrovska said.

Gadhia said there’s still a culture of not talking about mental health, especially as it relates to work. “I don’t want to get to a place where we’ve got everybody crying on each other’s shoulders,” she told the BBC. But, she says, organizations must support employees who want to talk about such challenges and know how to react.

“If someone turns up to work on crutches with a broken leg, it is easier to sympathize or empathize or help,” she said. “But when you can’t see it, I think that’s much harder.”

—@clairezillman

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