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Health Management expert shines spotlight on gender inequality in nursing

Published: Fri 6 May 2016
Health Management expert shines spotlight on gender inequality in nursing

A health management expert from the University of Bradford, alongside renowned co-authors, has explored the issue of equal opportunities in nursing for women with young children.

The paper, which featured in the international journal ‘Gender in Management’, has just been selected as one of the Outstanding Papers in the 2016 Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence.

The paper, titled The impact of gender perceptions and professional values on women’s careers in nursing, looks at two enduring sets of assumptions within nursing: firstly, that woman with children should prioritise the care of their children; and secondly that nursing standards require nurses to put their profession above other priorities.

Dr Bryan McIntosh, Senior Lecturer in Health Management and Organisational Behaviour at the University of Bradford, said: “Our research looked at the relationship between the ‘patient comes first’ mantra at the core of nursing and the gender perception that, for women with dependent children, family should come first. Historically, nursing has been defined by the gender of its workforce and its professional values, but there has been less attention on how these two factors can inter-relate and impact on careers.”

The research involved in-depth interviews with 32 female registered nurses with and without children. They were employed in acute nursing, aged between 25 and 60, and in registered grades D to senior nurse manager. They worked or had worked in a variety of employment conditions and some had taken career breaks. The rationale for exclusively selecting women was based on the need to identify and describe organisational, situational and individual factors related to women, and the associations and barriers that affected their careers.

Dr McIntosh explained: “We found that at a certain level women who had children, especially of pre-school age, were overtly and implicitly expected to prioritise their children, and variations from this were met by, at times, open hostility from others. This was a norm within nursing, which centred on the role of women in relation to the family and children.

“However we found that the profession actually resisted attempts to make the profession more accessible to women with young children and that career progression was often inhibited. Commitment to a role was linked to full-time working which contrasts sharply with the reality for many women with children, who need to work part-time and are not able to change or extend working hours.”

The paper recommends that where there is a perceived requirement for practitioners to work full-time, women with young children should be afforded the opportunity to move to other areas within their technical discipline with greater ease. It can directly benefit the financial and operational efficiency of most employers. In this case of the NHS, the retention and return of experienced registered nurses can reduce on-going expenditure on the training of new staff. Retaining experienced nurses would further enhance the quality of care provided. For women, this proposal can enhance work-life balance and positively confront the choice many women face between their career and family, while allowing them to navigate their careers more easily.

The paper, The impact of gender perceptions and professional values on women’s careers in nursing, published in Gender in Management: An International Journal 2015 Vol 30 1 E, has been made freely available for one year http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/GM-12-2013-0135

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