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Workforce: We must close the persistent gender gap in opportunities and pay

Improving working conditions for women in nursing will strengthen the profession as a whole

Improving working conditions for women in nursing will strengthen the profession as a whole

Across the world, 70% of the health workforce is comprised of women. But a recent analysis of gender and equity in the health workforce, published by the World Health Organization (WHO), shows that 69% of global health organisations have male leaders.


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The report, published in March, also revealed that the health workforce gender pay gap is estimated at 26% in high-income countries.

Global inequity

Against this global backdrop, UK nursing is not a shining beacon of progress. Recent research has highlighted that men – who make up 11% of the profession – have one in five of the best-paid jobs in UK nursing.

This includes 17% of all nursing jobs in England at NHS Agenda for Change pay band 8d, which has a starting salary of more than £70,000. Men are also promoted faster than their female colleagues; in Northern Ireland, where men make up less than 7% of the nursing workforce, they hold 28% of the highest paid jobs. 

However, there is little sign that this relative ‘success’ for men has driven an increase in their take-up of the profession; 60 years ago, 10% of nurses were men and now they are about 11%.

Recruitment campaigns

Every time nursing shortages bite, there is the predictable cry of ‘how do we make nursing more attractive to men?’ There were recruitment campaigns targeted at men in the 1970s and again in the 1990s, and in the era of social media, there are Twitter and Facebook groups aimed at recruiting more men into nursing. The issue was even debated at last year’s RCN Congress.

It is worth reflecting on a critical conclusion of the WHO report: ‘Policies to date have attempted to fix women to fit into inequitable systems; now we need to fix the system and work environment to create decent work for women and close gender gaps in leadership and pay.’

The real question is not ‘how do we make nursing more attractive to men?’ It is ‘how do we make nursing more attractive?’


James Buchan is professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

 


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