Breaking Through the Gender Pay Gap in Nursing

Despite equalities in job title, specialty, education, and on-the-job experience male nurses continue to out-earn their female counterparts every year.  What’s more, this pay disparity has remained virtually unchanged since 1988 in a profession where women dominate men at a ratio of 95:1. Put another way, males make up only between 7 to 10 percent of nurses working in the United States.

Just how big is this gender pay gap?

This question is best answered by looking at the findings of a recent study titled Salary Differences Between Male and Female Registered Nurses in the United States published in the 24/31/2015 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  Using data from two surveys spanning a period of 25 years, researchers evaluated a sampling of nearly 300,000 full-time employed RNs working 50 or more weeks a year and 35 hours or more per week.  Here’s what they found:

  • Only 7% of survey participants were males (which jives with industry reports and U.S. Census data).
  • Male RNs earned an average of $5,100 more annually than female nurses in similar roles.
  • In hospital settings, male nurses out-earned females by $3,873.
  • In ambulatory settings the pay gap rose to $7,678.
  • Among the seven specialties included in the study–cardiology, psychiatry, neurology, pediatrics, med/surgery, orthopedics and chronic care–the gap was biggest in cardiology, at $6,034.
  • Salary differences also existed by position, ranging from $3,956 for middle management to a disparity of $17, 290 for nurse anesthetists—which is particularly confounding since male and female CRNA’s undergo the same education and training and are required to provide the same level of high-quality safety practices for every type of procedure requiring anesthesia.

What’s at the root of the nursing gender pay gap? 

While there is no clear-cut explanation for this pay disparity, there are a number of factors at play.

Basic Gender Stereotyping could be reinforcing and driving the unbalanced pay scale.

While pay disparities between genders have narrowed in the last 50 years, women performing the same job and sporting the same credentials and merits as men, still earn 20% less.  Logic dictates that this disparity should not exist for the female-dominated nursing profession, yet it does. Those who deny that a gender pay gap exists (or justify the pay inequities) assume that female nurses do not work the same hours as their male colleagues because they simply don’t have to.  On the contrary, many of the 2.5 million women that make up the nursing workforce are the sole financial providers for their families and work full-time to shoulder this responsibility and advance their careers.   Despite this fact, men are still perceived as the primary breadwinners who work extra shifts or overtime to pay the bills. Clearly, employers operating on this false assumption need to be enlightened.

Some recruiters and other hiring professionals say that men are more likely to try to negotiate better salaries or benefits.

This observation might be tinged with a bit of gender stereotyping; however, it is true that men have typically been raised to play hardball and are expected to negotiate for more pay, while women have been taught to stay compliant and refrain from ruffling feathers.  Although the women’s movement of the 1960’s and the passing of the Equal Pay Act by Congress in 1963 have helped to boost the negotiating power of females in this country, gender pay inequities still exist and present an obstacle for women trying to overturn the gender pay bias.

How do we close the gender pay gap?

We can start by encouraging female nurses to “man-up” and speak out against gender pay disparities.  

A number of recent women’s workforce studies and reports indicate that women in nursing often assume that compensation policies are inflexible, so they don’t ask for more money.  Convincing women nurses that salary negotiation is not only possible, but also necessary plays a big part in helping them eliminate the gender pay gap.

Nurse employers can do a lot to level wage disparities between men and women in equivalent nursing roles. 

When female nurses do not complain about pay disparities or do not negotiate for higher wages, management assumes that gender pay bias is not an issue.  We now know that rusty negotiating skills or hesitancy to complain does not indicate that all is well on the pay front. Hiring managers (particularly those who are women) must examine and periodically spot check their healthcare facility’s internal pay practices to identify any gender pay inequities.  They can begin by evaluating all forms of compensation for their employees—starting salary, benefits, bonuses, shift differentials, overtime, training opportunities, sick leave, etc.  Here are other things they can do:

  • Increase transparency in compensation. An open pay policy allows workers to know how much their colleagues are earning, which will stop speculation about pay and show staff they are being paid fairly. What’s more, transparency will identify pay disparities so they can be reported and fixed.
  • Offer equal employment opportunity training on compensation to increase awareness.
  • Evaluate how pay raises and bonuses are determined to ensure that decisions are made in a nondiscriminatory manner.
  • Periodically review the facility’s performance evaluation process and the ratings given to each employee to ensure no gender bias.
  • Understand legal obligations with respect to gender equality in the workplace. Major laws affecting equal pay include The Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, and Executive Order 11246

For more information on issues that affect your employees and your workplace rely on BOS Medical Staffing.  Since 2008, our Georgia-based staffing firm has brought talented nurses, therapists and medical administrators together with top facilities.  Contact BOS Medical today to talk about customized staffing solutions.

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