Fixing the gender gap in nursing pay
Thursday, April 09, 2015
For decades in the United States, there has been keen awareness that women earn less than men in a wide range of industries. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, full-time female workers earned 78 cents on the dollar as compared to their male counterparts in 2013.
So-called "pay parity" has long been on the minds of many stakeholders, but the rate of change in this regard has been woefully slow.
AMA sheds light on the darkness
Recently, a study published by the American Medical Association elucidated that men working as nurses earn considerably more than female nurses, even though men make up only 9 percent of the nursing workforce.
According to the AMA report, which was cited by Kaiser Health News, male nurses in the outpatient arena earn approximately $7,700 more per year than females, and $3,900 more in the hospital setting.
Kaiser stated that the study controlled for age, marital status, race and the presence of children living in the home. Meanwhile, a response published on The Huffington Post adds that the study also controlled for experience, education, clinical specialty and work hours.
Expert nurse bloggers like Elizabeth Scala have responded to the news with calls for action, including the mentoring of nurse leaders and the education of nurses in skills such as negotiation. She mentions that nurses also need to value themselves more highly, internalizing that value and translating it into negotiation power. Scala recently appeared on an episode of RNFM Radio, the well-known nursing podcast, where this timely issue was discussed at length.
One place to affect change is at the systemic level. Whether through legislation, industrywide reforms or other measures, the fact that men in nursing are earning more than women is a sign that a systemic issue is at play.
Even while we acknowledge pay disparity within nursing, we also know beyond a doubt that such disparity is not isolated to nursing. At this level, there are societal factors bleeding into myriad professional spheres, thus making the creation of change even more of a challenge.
Who are the stakeholders?
If effecting change at the societal level appears difficult at best, change within the nursing profession itself may or may not be any easier.
If we closely examined who is controlling the pay scales, employment offers and purse strings of large employers of nurses around the U.S., we would likely find that those stakeholders and decision-makers are consciously or unconsciously influenced by the larger societal beliefs that continue to undervalue female workers.
Even if some of those stakeholders may themselves be women, we are all knowingly or unknowingly steeped in patriarchal values that influence our actions. Thus, we may generally find ourselves working under others who are also controlled by those same systems and values.
If we cannot change society's overarching value system overnight, one place to begin might be the employers themselves, including the decision-makers within the financial and human resources ecosystem.
An egregious issue
As mentioned above, Scala calls on nurses to learn skills of negotiation. She also urges nurses to develop their muscle of self-esteem, which could potentially encourage nurses to demand higher salaries that are more in concert with their level of expertise and the salaries earned by their male counterparts.
One might hope that news of female nurses earning 22 percent less than their male colleagues would cause a collective and individual uproar. Female nurses are hopefully waking up to the reality of pay disparity, ultimately holding their employers' feet to the fire regarding this egregious issue.
A slow boat to turn around
Changing a problem with deep roots in larger systemic matters is a slow boat to turn, just as racial discrimination and equality have seen painfully slow gains since the Civil Rights era.
Having said that, nurses have the power of numbers in their favor. As the veritable backbone of healthcare, nurses can leverage their crucial importance to the very delivery of patient care, especially since they are the single largest employee group within the larger industry.
Many nurses may not be unionized, but a collective voice indeed still needs to rise up in protest to this clear disparity. That voice may, in the end, be the one that can most effectively lead to actions that could eventually make such inexcusable pay disparities a phenomenon of the past.
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