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UK – Despite gender pay gap, women dominate nursing workforce

21 June 2016

Despite the nursing sector’s predominantly female workforce in the UK, there is still a disproportionate amount of men occupying senior or management positions, according to research from Randstad Care.

The research report, ‘Assessing the Lack of Senior Opportunities for Women in Nursing’, revealed that that while 89.6% of nurses and midwives are women, men are paid 14% more for the same job. Furthermore, men occupy two-thirds of senior positions in the nursing sector. The report also showed that 45% of healthcare professionals believe not enough is being done to get women into the top jobs and 36% of care workers believe a glass ceiling still exists for women.

“It is disappointing that the gender spread isn’t more evenly reflected at the top but the reasons why more women don’t go onto senior positions are complex,” Victoria Short, MD of Randstad Care, said. “Nurses really are the backbone of the NHS and without them it simply wouldn’t function. Greater respect for nurses would in turn lead to greater self-belief and ultimately more women making it into senior positions and earning higher wages.”

According to the report, 84% of women have never asked for a pay rise compared to 71% of men.

“As nurses sometimes lack the confidence to ask for pay rises, employers should also help improve confidence and self-belief and ensure female nurses acknowledge their best skills and achievements,” Short said.

The UK’s nursing workforce has grown to record levels as the NHS struggles to keep up with an unrelenting demand for healthcare workers. The UK’s population, which is expected to hit 74.3 million by 2039, the number of nurses reaching retirement age and increasing life expectancies are all contributing to staff shortages and the pressing need for more nurses and midwives.

The growing demand has led to a rise in nursing graduates as the report showed a 29% increase in graduate nurses, however 83% of NHS trusts still reported nursing shortages. The NHS has had to use staffing agencies and recruit nurses from overseas to plug in these gaps.

Caps on the amount NHS trusts can pay agency staff (which were introduced by Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority in November 2015) are also likely to have an impact on the gender pay gap. In a bid to tackle the high fees paid to agency staff, the latest reforms mean trusts are unable to pay agency workers more than 55% more for a shift than a permanent member of staff.  The report suggests that these wage caps will therefore have a detrimental effect on agency nursing pay rates, as it’s unlikely that the pay gap will improve for female agency nurse temps in the foreseeable future.

The survey also revealed that 43% of men believe they are paid equally compared to just 24% of women and 13% actually argued that men and women will never be paid the same.

In order to address the issue of gender imbalance in the nursing sector, a number of programmes and initiatives have been set up to ensure women receive the training and confidence they need to succeed at a higher level. ‘The Athena Programme’ was established to support and help women fulfil their potential as leaders across the public sector. The programme, which welcomes applicants from the NHS, focuses on personal development and aims to help women overcome the barriers they face in leadership positions; both real and perceived.

“Given that 45% of healthcare professionals believe not enough is being done to get women into the top jobs and cite employer attitudes as a major reason holding women back, the NHS also needs to look at how women are supported and trained at all levels,” Short said.  “Empowering female nurses with more training and career development programmes will go some way to redressing the balance and greater attempts should be made to dispel inaccurate stereotypes around “aggressive” female bosses.”

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