Comment

Men in nursing: recruitment campaigns pander to bogus concerns about inequality

We need to stop bending over backwards to make nursing ‘attractive to men’

Recruitment campaigns that focus on men hijack inequality concerns for the benefit of societys most advantaged group

The need to develop and promote a strategy to recruit more men into the nursing profession was the subject of a failed resolution at the RCNs 2019 congress.

The resolution was made on the basis that nursing has a staffing crisis and men are significantly underrepresented in nursing.

Although the resolution didnt pass , that hasnt stopped men-in-nursing campaigns from continuing to gather momentum across the UK.

Nor has it prevented the RCN, NHS

...

Recruitment campaigns that focus on men hijack inequality concerns for the benefit of society’s most advantaged group

Picture: iStock

The need to ‘develop and promote a strategy to recruit more men into the nursing profession’ was the subject of a failed resolution at the RCN’s 2019 congress.

The resolution was made on the basis that nursing has a staffing crisis and men are ‘significantly underrepresented’ in nursing.

Although the resolution didn’t pass, that hasn’t stopped men-in-nursing campaigns from continuing to gather momentum across the UK.

Nor has it prevented the RCN, NHS England and NHS Education for Scotland (NES) from promoting them.

Proponents of these campaigns continue to cite men as an untapped resource for nursing’s ongoing staffing crisis. This, despite the finite number of university places available to educate them and evidence showing that men are more likely to leave the profession than women.

Toxic masculinity exists inside as well as beyond nursing

But that’s not all. In addition to these arguments, we are told men face stigma for being nurses.

This would appear, on the face of it, to be true. But the research that demonstrates this also highlights the source of this stigma – other men, from outside the nursing profession.

Toxic masculine narratives of nursing as a ‘poofy’ or ‘feminine’ job positions nursing as a profession that reduces men to something lesser.

‘Focusing on men in gender-equality initiatives draws a false equivalence between men’s personal choices and structural barriers faced by oppressed groups… and gives them an additional advantage over those from which they already benefit’

The research quotes the male nursing student participants as lamenting a lack of ‘laddish banter’ and states that ‘girls like to gossip’ when speaking of their adult female peers.

The misogyny and homophobia is loud and clear.

Alarmingly, the research authors have been deeply uncritical of these comments and the questionable values they belie.

Instead, they suggest a national strategy to change the image of nursing because it may be ‘off-putting’ for men.

NHS recruitment strategy panders to macho culture

NHS England’s heavily-criticised recruitment video speaks to these same attitudes.

The video invites us to bear witness to men playing football, as heroes running through A&E and adopting power stances while telling us they’re ‘not embarrassed’ to be nurses.

Just who are they trying to convince, I wonder?

These campaigns aim to appeal to the hypermasculine, heteronormative male – glorifying and legitimising a ‘laddish’ culture.

This clearly isn’t the image overhaul we should be aiming for in a respectable profession, nor is it reflective of the attitudes and values required to be a competent registrant.

Nevertheless, the support and funding for such campaigns continues, as concern and criticisms fail to be heard.

Perhaps we can attribute some of this to the increasingly common belief that men are in nursing are somehow victims of systemic inequality.

Pitching men as disadvantaged in nursing only boosts their advantage

In nurse education, where much of the activism is located, initiatives such as the Athena Swan framework, which is used across the globe to support gender equality in higher education and research, pitch men as a focus for gender equality.

‘The “problem” of smaller numbers of men in the profession is actually the result of wider social misogyny and homophobia’

This draws a false equivalence between men’s personal choices and structural barriers faced by oppressed groups.

Research shows this pitching men as disadvantaged in the nursing profession gives them an additional advantage over those from which they already benefit.

This can be seen in nursing’s gender pay gap, which results from men progressing faster, further and with fewer qualifications than their female peers.

Reluctance to choose nursing does not mean men suffer inequality

By inaccurately framing men’s avoidance of nursing careers as an inequality issue, male-specific campaigns position men – inappropriately – as victims of injustice equivalent to that experienced by oppressed groups for whom those targets, and strategies were designed.

This is particularly problematic, given that the ‘problem’ of smaller numbers of men in the profession is actually the result of wider social misogyny and homophobia.

The uncomfortable reality, that we are powerless to influence the bigger problem of misogyny in our profession, is a tension that many women hold within them every day.

Men in nursing, judged only by association, have just a small taste of this.

Perhaps even more uncomfortable for many women is just how rapidly men-in-nursing campaigns have taken off and how readily the time, energy and funding have been made available to them.

Ironically, this is a symptom of the power and privilege afforded to men, even in a majority-female profession.

For decades, similar efforts to address under-representation of black, trans and female nurses in leadership roles have remained a niche afterthought.

Men-in-nursing campaigns advance an already advantaged group by using false promises of boosting staffing numbers, and are promoted by organisations keen to see a positive-sounding, quick fix to a complex and nuanced problem.

Recruitment campaigns ‘for men’ only disadvantage women

There is no credible evidence that such recruitment campaigns are wanted or needed; and won’t disadvantage women further.

If nursing needs an image overhaul, it’s because it’s seen as an unskilled ‘vocation’, and not because it’s ‘feminine’ or ‘poofy.’

This is the misogynistic and homophobic rhetoric of the patriarchy, not a valid observation to which we should react.

We should be shutting these ideas down, not bending over backwards for them.

Nursing Standard podcast: Men in nursing

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