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Banish idea of nursing as ‘women’s work’ to promote more female health leaders – report

Nursing Now survey analysis suggests ways to address gender imbalance in senior positions

Nursing Now survey analysis suggests ways to address gender imbalance in senior positions


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The perception of nursing as a ‘feminine’ or ‘nurturing’ profession is creating a barrier to women progressing into leadership roles, according to a new report.  

Based on a global survey of more than 2,500 former and current nurses, the report calls for the status of the profession to be raised in the wider health sector by challenging the perception that nursing is a ‘soft science’.

‘Glass escalator’

The Investing in the Power of Nurse Leadership report highlights that while women make up 70% of the global health and social care workforce, just 25% of health system leadership roles are occupied by women. 

The report, published by the Nursing Now campaign, also says that the survey respondents point to a ‘glass escalator’ effect, which sees the rapid advancement of male colleagues with less experience due to their ‘ability to talk the talk’.

 Findings from the survey of 2,537 men and women from 117 countries include:

  • Half of respondents said they believed men are favoured more for promotion.
  • Respondents overwhelmingly reported challenges balancing unpaid and paid work affect women more than men in nursing.
  • Both male and female respondents felt they lack decision-making authority in a clinical context. Respondents said in some settings there is a perception that ‘nurses are there to serve doctors and are not professionals in their own right’.
  • Lack of confidence was cited as a barrier to leadership roles, but support of family, leadership training and mentorship were all important factors in being able to assume leadership positions.

Balancing responsibilities

The report urges employers to open up managerial opportunities to women by ensuring they are not professionally disadvantaged should they become pregnant, and allowing them to balance work and family responsibilities. 

Employers and education institutions should also audit recruitment and promotion practices to avoid ‘sorting men into leadership roles and women into service delivery’.

Nurses should also be given access to funding for leadership development and other professional development.

Reasons for gender inequality

Launched in 2018, the three-year global Nursing Now campaign aims to raise the profile of the profession, empowering nurses to tackle healthcare challenges.

International Council of Nurses president Annette Kennedy said: 'Nurses can be the answer to so many of the world's health problems—but only if there are serious, sustained efforts to remove the obstacles that are routinely put in their way.

 'Give them a level playing field, remove the glass ceiling and abandon any notions of “women's work” and nurses will change the world.'


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