Gender Disparity in Nursing
The other day I listened to Sean Dent’s podcast titled “Men in Nursing: Disparities” as Sean and his guests discussed the question “Do Men Earn More than Women in Nursing?”
One of the great things about Sean’s podcast is that it’s a unique chance to listen to four nurses all offering a male point of view. The four guys are:
- Sean, the host, successful podcaster of A Change in Shift, and an ICU NP
- Keith, author, advocate of equality in the workplace, and holistic career coach at nursekeith.com
- Craig, a podcaster and blogger at KeepitRealRN.com, aka Mr. Passionate, an outspoken long time critical care nurse
- Robert, twitter handle @RobertBSNRN and moderator of Twitter page @MeninNursing.
The podcast provides insight into gender disparities in nursing by the minority guys themselves.
It’s a great listen, and a much-needed conversation. Bonus– Want to hear men describe the difference between how men and women fight on the job? Tune in.
You can also access the podcast at iTunes:https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-change-of-shift-podcast/id1050668824
Gender Disparity in Nursing?
Is there gender disparity in nursing? It seems there is. Healthcare is characterized by paternalism and patriarchal structures that reflect society’s gender power differences.
Men in nursing have a hidden advantage that affords them higher pay, hiring and promotion considerations, and higher representation in prestigious specialities.
As an example of prestigious specialities, 41% of all nurse anesthetists, the highest paid and arguably one of the most prestigious clinical specialities, are males, while only 10% of all nurses are males.
For men in nursing, minority status in nursing has translated to career promotions.
Gender Disparity in Nursing: Feminine Profession and Social Stigma
For over a hundred years, nursing has been seen as “women’s work”. Florence Nightingale herself firmly established nursing as a female profession. Men have avoided this female profession in droves. Men risk public stigma and loss of prestige when choosing a woman’s career.
A man announcing to his friends and family “I’m going to be a nurse!” is not necessarily high-fived for his prestigious career choice.
A man entering nursing is an example of a high status social group member entering a lower status profession, and faces negative stereotypes.
Gender Disparity in Nursing: Discrimination from Within
When females attempt to enter a male dominated occupation, they can experience a poisoned work environment including sabotage and sexual harassment. (4) There are well documented examples of hostility and even violence towards females entering the military and other male occupations such as fireman, and policeman.
Males typically do not experience the same discrimination and prejudice that women do. By contrast, men are often well-integrated into their nursing unit.
Men in nursing may experience occasional awkwardness and social isolation, such as not being invited to an outside baby showers (or worse, being invited).
They may report that they are automatically assigned to be The Lifter, or The Fixer of Computers, but such stereotyping doesn’t rise to the level of hostility and even violence that women encounter when crossing over into a male-dominated profession.
Gender Disparity in Nursing: Female Tokenism versus Male Tokenism
By definition of being less than 15% of the work force, men are tokens in nursing.
Tokenism is a very different experience for men than women. While token status for females is a disadvantage, token status for males is a distinct advantage. A male’s inherent social status is higher than his job status.
Sexism trumps tokenism in nursing
Men do not check their gender privilege in at the door when entering nursing. Men in nursing are tokens with gender privilege.
While women try to downplay their gender in a non-traditional role, men don’t, as their gender difference is a positive.
A hiring bias exists towards men- employers will hire a male over a female.
Men enjoy hiring and promotion favors, as well as relationship advantages with male physicians and males of higher status in the organization.
Gender Disparity in Nursing: Disparity in Pay
Imagine if a study in an influential journal revealed that female coal miners earn more than their male counterparts.
The facts are out. Females vastly outnumber males in nursing, but males earn more than females. In a female dominated profession and the largest healthcare occupation, women have not been able to hold their own. Women earn about ninety cents to the dollar than men in nursing (Muench, 2015).
note: The men on the podcast debated some limitations to the JAMA study and all agree more research is needed.
Gender Disparity in Nursing: Disparity in Advancement
During the podcast, Beth Boynton of Confident Voices hit the nail on the head when she tweeted that the issue is also one of advancement. She says “….no specifics (but I’ve observed ) subtle experiences of (women) being dismissed or overlooked- which makes it more pervasive”
Minority status for women is a career liability. Minority status for men is a career mobilizer. While women crowd into the glass ceilinged elevator, men glide upwards on the glass escalator. It goes further. Faster.
Male nurses represent a fraction of the nursing workforce yet hold a disproportionate amount of higher paid positions. Men are “kicked upwards” (Williams, 1992) and receive preferential treatment when it comes to advancement. They enjoy advantage in both hiring and promotion.
Mike has been a nurse for one and a half years, and has already been promoted to Charge Nurse by his male manager. Marilyn, a coworker with 14 years of nursing experience, who is in a Master’s program, is overlooked for the role. Marilyn responds with disbelief. She asks “How can Mike possibly be a clinical resource to me?”
Many men receive preferential treatment simply because they are men, and not on the basis of competence or aptitude.
Gender Disparity in Nursing: Old Boys Club
According to Sean Dent, there is an inside circle that can only be entered by invitation. It is not a circle that can be found on any org chart, but unless you’ve been invited in, you are going nowhere (or maybe going in circles).
The powerful Boys Club ensures advancement and opportunity for its members. Patriarchal gender relationships place men in sought after, elite positions. Recruits are placed on a fast track and groomed for elite positions.
Once in administration, men can distance themselves from the feminine image.
Anecdotally, in the podcast, Rob says that as a new nurse, he and other men have been approached to seek out managerial positions. Nurse Keith concurs and says “Men rise more quickly in the profession” and as a nursing administrator, offers himself as an example.
Gender Disparity in Nursing: Are Females Complicit?
But are females themselves complicit in gender disparity in nursing? Read Gender Disparity in Nursing Part II for thoughts on how women perpetuate the problem.
Higher pay is just one quantifiable indicator of something we already know- men have a higher social status than women. It’s a reflection of our culture, of our broader social beliefs. Along with the higher status comes opportunity and advancement in the workplace, and nursing is not exempt to this truism.
Unfortunately more men entering nursing is not going to redeem the situation of the low status image of nursing. Men are not going to “rescue” the profession of nursing and enhance its image; they are going to carve out male career tracks and dense pockets of males in speciality areas within nursing.
The gender inequity solution in nursing is not simple, but Muench, et al., (2015) has provided data to further the conversation.
Until next time friend,
Come visit me at Ask Nurse Beth career column at allnurses.com for all kinds of entertaining and informative career questions and answers, and to submit your own question 🙂
- Muench, U., Sindelar, J., Busch, S. H., & Buerhaus, P. I. (2015). Salary Differences Between Male and Female Registered Nurses in the United States. JAMA, 313(12), 1265-1267.
- King, E. B., Hebl, M. R., George, J. M., & Matusik, S. F. (2009). Understanding tokenism: Antecedents and consequences of a psychological climate of gender inequity. Journal of Management.
- US Census Bureau. Men in nursing occupations. American Community Survey highlight report. February 2013.https://www.census.gov/people/io/files/Men_in_Nursing_Occupations.pdf Retrieved December, 2015.
- Williams, Christine L. 1992. “The Glass Escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the “Female” Professions.” Social Problems 39(3)