Gender Disparity in Nursing: Part II

Female Dominated Profession

Nursing is considered “women’s work”, and as such holds a low occupational status among healthcare professions.

The number of men in nursing is trending upwards, but is still only a fraction of the whole at about 10%.

The small number of males are disproportionately overrepresented in the higher-paid administrative and prestigious speciality areas of nursing.

Read Gender Disparity in Nursing: Part I about the surprising hidden advantage of men in nursing.

Gender Inequity as a Cause of Job Distress in Nursing

When women believe that men are promoted faster, and given more opportunities for advancement, the result is  a demoralizing, negative work experience.  Not to be underestimated, negative work experiences significantly affect key job outcomes such as job satisfaction, and turnover intention.

According to King (2007), ” a psychological climate of gender inequity appears to contribute to a more negative work experience for women, heightened intentions to leave their current organization, and lower levels of helping.” Further, organizational condoning of gender inequity ” has the potential to impair their psychological well-being as well as their interpersonal behaviors” (King, 2007).

A climate of gender inequity contributes to feelings of powerlessness and job-related distress (Tepper, 2001). Perceived powerlessness and not being included in decision-making results in lowered job satisfaction. By definition, powerless nurses are ineffective nurses. The majority of nurses do not feel powerful in the workforce. (Brewer,et al., 2006).

Gender inequity in hospitals is manifested in paternalism and structure. It stems from the broader societal and cultural views held about gender differences between men and women.

Female Stereotypes

In her pioneering work,Work and Family in the United States: A Critical Review and Agenda for Research and Policy (1997), Kanter identified four common stereotypes of professional women: seductress or sex object, mother, pet, and iron maiden.

Female stereotypes persist

Female stereotypes persist

There is a very real dread of being labeled  a b**** or worse, a Pushy Woman, in the workplace. Females have a double-edged sword in trying to advance their careers while avoiding negative stereotypes that characterize getting ahead behaviors as bossy, controlling, and unfeminine.

Unknowingly Complicit

Females are socialized to perpetuate gender stereotypes that hinder their career advancement to the top.

Are female nurses complicit in allowing males to advance faster by deferring to them, casting them into the leadership role, and even nurturing their career development?

How often do  women “let men take control?” out of deference or psychological comfort?

When men report that their female colleagues use them to lift and turn patients, do the heavy lifting, fix electronic equipment, etc., this an example of  women playing into the societal stereotype of being unable to manage difficult tasks without a man’s help?

A deep male voice is raised in a meeting. Is the opinion expressed given more accord, extra points if you will? If minutes of the meeting were gender blinded, would the words carry as much weight?


Unlike men, women are not socialized to exert power (Manojlovich, 2007). Empowerment in part comes from the environment:

  •  structure of the organization
  • transparency of the organization
  • sharing and access of information within the organization
  • ability to advance within the organization

but also from within, or personal empowerment (Manojlovich).

Personal empowerment is a step towards transcending the female stereotypes that caricaturize women.

Personal empowerment starts with self-awareness and examination of personal prejudices. Bias often exists at a unconcious level and therefore is not questioned, although it drives behavior. Be aware of gender bias in yourself and others.


Empowered people are assertive. An assertive nurse is self-confident and assured. She speaks in a forthright manner and states what she needs. She avoids being coy or deferential with male counterparts. She takes ownership of her nursing practice.

Assertive behaviors are learanable although women often have to purpose to learn them, at the same time unlearning passive behaviors and beliefs. Being assertive is not the opposite of being feminine. Being powerful and being caring are not mutually exclusive.

Gender disparity in nursing is complex with many layers. Men entering nursing is highlighting the fact of gender disparity in nursing even more. Organizations need to provide structural empowerment, and nurses need to take responsibility for personal empowerment.

Until next time, friend,

Nurse Beth


Brewer, C. S., Zayas, L. E., Kahn, L. S., & Sienkiewicz, M. J. (2006). Nursing recruitment and retention in New York State: a qualitative workforce needs assessment. Policy, Politics, & Nursing Practice, 7(1).

Garon, M. (2012). Speaking up, being heard: registered nurses’ perceptions of workplace communication. Journal of Nursing Management, 20(3), 361-371.

Jinks, A. M., & Bradley, E. (2004). Angel, Handmaiden, Battleaxe or Whore? A study which examines changes in newly recruited student nurses’ attitudes to gender and nursing stereotypes. Nurse education today, 24(2), 121-127.

Kanter, R. M. (1977). Work and family in the United States: A critical review and agenda for research and policy. Russell Sage Foundation.

King, E. B., Hebl, M. R., George, J. M., & Matusik, S. F. (2009). Understanding tokenism: Antecedents and consequences of a psychological climate of gender inequity. Journal of Management.

Manojlovich, M. (2007). Power and empowerment in nursing: Looking backward to inform the future. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 12(1).

Tepper, B. J., Duffy, M. K., & Shaw, J. D. (2001). Personality moderators of the relationship between abusive supervision and subordinates’ resistance.Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(5), 974.

About Beth Hawkes

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Nurse Beth (Beth Hawkes, MSN, RN-BC), is a nursing career specialist and blogs at She's also the author of Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job. If you have ever submitted a resume or interviewed and never heard back, this book is for you. You will learn why never to say “I’m a perfectionist” when asked “What’s your greatest weakness?” You will be given insider tips and discover what nurse managers are really looking for in a candidate. Filled with real life examples and testimonials, “Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job” truly is the ultimate guide to composing winning cover letters, essays, resumes-and landing a nursing job. Available at Amazon.