Aug 17, 2022

Getting more men into nursing means a rethink of gender roles, pay and recognition. But we need them urgently

Demand for health care is soaring as the population ages, medical treatments become more widely available and more people live with chronic and complex illnesses.

Demand for health care is soaring as the population ages, medical treatments become more widely available and more people live with chronic and complex illnesses.

However, there is global shortage of health professionals – and the pandemic has only accentuated the trend. Overwork, burnout and stress are causing nurses to leave in droves.

The World Health Organisation estimates we’ll need a further 9 million nurses worldwide by 2030. According to the International Council of Nurses, the figure is closer to 13 million.

Part of the solution is to recruit and retain more men in nursing. This would help address workforce shortages and could, over time, reduce the industry gender pay gap as the existence of men in nursing becomes more normalised.

And as jobs dry up in traditionally male-focused industries – such as mining and manufacturing – work in health care should be an attractive option for men, providing job security, career opportunities and salary.

Why are there so few men in nursing?

Caregiving is feminised in society and health care, and the nursing profession has strong female foundations. This has established a trajectory and a culture that has kept the representation of men to around 10% in many high income countries.

This is despite fervent efforts by many in the industry to achieve the equity of gender representation you see in most professions.

The reasons are complex and multifaceted. Men in nursing are often portrayed negatively in media and movies. Stereotypes abound.

And some men in nursing face discrimination from patients and staff, underpinned by false assumptions women are better suited to the role. Many people still underestimate the capacity of men to undertake personal care tasks.

Research also shows low male participation can stem from reticence by career counsellors to recommend nursing as a career.

A recent Australian report shows the dominance of women in the nursing workforce may hinder some men from considering nursing as a career, particularly those for whom masculinity is central to their identity. So we must work to undo the perception nursing is a feminine job – it is not.

Good role modelling is important. Many educational institutions and supporters such as Johnson & Johnson are working hard to present positive images of men in nursing and normalise that men can be great nurses too.

Source: JHU.

Retaining men in the workforce and addressing the ‘glass escalator’

Many regulatory and professional bodies are monitoring the participation of men in nursing. Some organisations offer incentives. For example, The American Association for Men in Nursing offers scholarships, awards and training to attract and retain men in the profession.

It is important to recognise some barriers for men come from within the nursing profession itself.

Some in the nursing workforce perceive that men are on a career “glass escalator”. Unlike a “glass ceiling”, which inhibits career progression, the “glass escalator” allows men to be fast-tracked up the nursing workforce to higher positions in an effort to retain them.

This can cause some to perceive male participation in nursing as a negative, which reduces inclusion.

But this glass escalator phenomenon, which can occur in other industries too, can only be overcome if male participation in the workforce is normalised.

And it is critically important to look at the structural, gender-driven factors that inhibit women embracing leadership roles.

It’s also worth noting women in the health and caregiving sector face a larger gender pay gap than in other economic sectors. A joint report by the International Labour Organisation and the World Health Organisation found:

Women in the health and care sector face a larger gender pay gap than in other economic sectors, earning on average of 24% less than peers who are men […] Within countries, gender pay gaps tend to be wider in higher pay categories, where men are over-represented. Women are over-represented in the lower pay categories.

Although this differential is not easily explained, it does reflect the value society ascribes to caregiving. If women are over-represented in the lower pay categories (which tend to focus more on personal care tasks) that suggests society ascribes low value to caregiving tasks, and over-representation of women in caregiving helps to further “feminise” caregiving.

It is highly likely these factors conspire to dissuade men and boys from getting started in nursing and undertaking caregiving roles within the profession.

Time for action

We urgently need more men in nursing.

Not only does this make good sense for health care, as it presents opportunities for engagement with men, but also good sense for our society and economic productivity. Investment in education and job creation in the health and social sectors could improve health outcomes, shore up global health security, and boost inclusive economic growth.

Perhaps most importantly, robust health care systems should be representative of the populations they serve. The workforce in any industry should be drawn from a range of perspectives, including gender and culture.

Patricia Davidson, Vice-Chancellor, University of Wollongong; Caleb Ferguson, Associate Professor, University of Wollongong, and Jason Farley, Professor, Infectious Disease-Trained Epidemiologist and Nurse Practitioner, Johns Hopkins University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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  1. What a load of bloody rubbish!
    Firstly, there are fewer men in nursing for the same reason that men are now far and between in teaching. Despite the desire and ability to teach or nurse men are too vulnerable to accusations of sexual or physical abuse on their charges.
    Men have shied away because a totally spurious complaint can ruin their lives.

    Next, there is no “wages gap” in nursing or teaching roles. Men earn the same as women so why is this b.s. repeated endlessly?

    Next, to say that men are more prone to manufacturing or mining etc! Seriously? Australia barely manufacturers anything and the mines are full of women!
    Have you looked around at this generation of “men”? Pony tails, soft hands, pants rolled up with no socks and no desire to work.

    Next, promotion opportunities? Again seriously? The very vast majority of senior roles in nursing are filled by qualified women for all the best reasons and the last thing we need is a rubbish “reverse descrimination” situation that promotes the undeserved.

    Finally, it’s not money. Nurses, qualified staff make excellent money be they male or female and the opportunity of advancement should remain based on ability and not what sex you might be…of course now a days there are at least three such choices! Disgraceful demoralisation of our very soft society.. sorry.. society we aren’t, we’re just a lot of people living together and not much society or respect left.

    1. Firstly, I preface this by saying I have absolutely no problem with a male nurse looking after me in hospital.
      However, put yourself in the shoes of a father with a 16 year old daughter. If you have any thoughts which cross your mind as to why you would not like her looked after in a hospital by a male nurse, then you know those accusations you speak of are not always “spurious”. It’s interesting that men shout “not all men” but then know it’s enough men that you recognise there is actually a real problem. I don’t like that you insinuated that women and girls are lying when reporting inappropriateness from male nurses and teachers either. This is what stops women and girls coming forward and reporting abuse and sexual assault. Often for years and years and then they are asked “why now?” and are then on the receiving end of claims that they “are just doing it for the money” and called “gold diggers”! :eyeroll:
      Also. Why are you discriminating against the way men chose to dress and look? Does this affect their ability to do a task? I know many, many men with pony tails who are shearers, mechanics and welders… Discrimination based on looks is forbidden for employers other than those in the acting industry, by the way.
      Next, I think you totally misunderstand the “gender pay gap”… it’s not talking about same job, same pay.
      It’s referring to higher paid industries in general being traditionally male industries, while lower paid industries are traditionally female industries – such as nursing and teaching.
      There is a large gap between what miners earn – with entry level positions paying $152,000 and nurses and teachers – $75,000 and $70,000 respectively for entry level positions.
      And your last several sentences make it quite clear you have no respect for any non-binary people and I would feel unsafe if I was a non-binary Aged Care resident residing within your facility… something the most recent overhaul of the Aged Care Standards in 2019 sought to resolve.

      1. Your comments confirmed my entire letter. You are the one that doesn’t understand. … anything.
        No one can compare pay rates outside their own sector!
        You can’t compare a qualified lawyer, accountant or a welder with a barista or shelfstacker. That’s not the way it works.

        If I lack respect it would be for lazy arsed nothing’s that are happy to complain about everything. And as far as my opinion on the feminist “men” that we see then you will be devastated to know that most roll their eyes when they see a “wo-man” stroll by, coffee in hand, hand bags,scarves etc.

  2. Yes it would be good to have more males in the industry. I have noticed though that most are young and do not work as hard as the women do. There seems to be a culture of “let the girls do it.” I am also concerned that the males seem to get ahead financially often offered positions that pay more overriding the women who apply. it is a very bias industry and some not all men have a “click” with the male boss. Just recently I have heard from staff that people who have recently began work at our facility in catering, laundry and a new AIN of only 6mths are on a higher rate of pay. More than people who have worked and slogged for years in these sections of aged care. Is this normal? Is it fair or legal to offer new staff a better rate of pay than to offer all the staff the same rate of pay? Staff that have worked there for years ?They come and go and we old time workers are left holding the bag until we are stuck with another new staff member to train when constantly short staffed only to discover they are on a higher rate of pay. Now I earn since October $24.76.5 a new AIN is earning $24.99. Ok it isn’t a lot by any standard but this could be rampant in a desperate industry.

    1. Anonymous…most facilities management are women that have worked extremely hard so your comment doesn’t add up when you say things about a “click” with male leaders.
      Perhaps the one you are talking about has taken on extra responsibility and is rewarded for it.

      1. Actually she wasn’t picking up any extra work nor was she doing anything more than others. She told me to my face. She couldn’t understand why she earnt for per hour herself.

  3. It all sounds good but from my own and other women working in Aged Care for example, the males working in aged care are for the most part lazy. If they don’t want to work on a busy ward they get to choose where they want to work at the expense of mostly women. We had a situation not long ago where a female AIN confronted the roster head to find out why after 2 yrs her roster has been changed and why a particular male who has only worked there for 3 months straight off the plane gets to do weekends amd picks up shifts all the time. The response was accusing and then the person stated that “he is saving for a house”. You could have knocked me over when I heard this. Obvious bias at it’s best. Putting a male ahead of an experienced very good carer. It has been going on for years! It seems when there are limited no’s of men working in this industry they do get treated far better than women. Women with more experience. Even when staff complain of their laziness nothing gets done. Instead the complainant is seen as a whinger and probably a racist as we have foureigners often claiming this when there is no substance to the claim only that staff have had to inform them of their errors which none like. RNs don’t train or supervise new staff. So when AINs have to work with new staff it often becomes quiet nasty. Some have been caught using disinfectant wipes on residents due to the lack of English and reading skills as the packets look similar to skin wipe packets. Please don’t tell me all these new foureigners coming in are proficient in reading let alone speaking English. The hiring of these people has become alot worse. They are now making AINS work in the kitchen by dishing up mealsnto residents, serving and feeding residents then we have to clean and wash up and take food trollys back to the kitchen. Staff are working in the kitchen and the laundry as they will not hire more staff in these areas. They are now training new AINS in kitchen and Laundry. AINS also have to clean bathrooms, toilts, arou d the the outside of toilets and even tidy bedrooms. Give out all clean clothing. The list is endless. Since we now have to prove we have more staff to ratio for minutes they are using the extra staff to pick up the slack in all areas now! They give and now they take advantage of the extra staff and as a result they are taking us away from the cares of the residents.The exact issue we have always suffered from has come to bite us. Didn’t anyone think this would happen when aged care facilities had to have more staff?


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