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Top hospitals show bias for male nurse directors


Male nurses are twice as likely to hold a top job in England’s leading hospitals, a Nursing Times investigation has revealed.

In a survey of 84 acute trusts, 47 of which had foundation status, 8.1 per cent of non-foundation trust nursing directors were men but the figure jumped to 14.9 per cent among foundations.

Men make up:

7.9% of acute nursing workforce

8.1% of acute non-foundation trust nurse directors

14.9% of acute foundation trust nurse directors

By contrast, men make up just 7.9 per cent of the total acute nursing workforce.

The figures are being blamed on the “business ethos” of foundation trusts deterring women from applying for leadership roles or being picked for top jobs.

Unison head of nursing Gail Adams called the figures “worrying”. They could be due to foundation trusts focusing on their business models instead of “moral and ethical” concerns over equality, she said.

She urged foundation trusts to investigate whether women had been disadvantaged because of career breaks or biased recruitment processes.

Julie Stevens, West Middlesex University Hospital Trust consultant lead nurse in tissue viability, said: “The perception is that [in an FT] you need to have more of a financial head.”

Men might be seen as more “financially canny” than women, she added. Nurses had little training in business, but men were more able to “put on a front”.

Royal College of Nursing head of policy Howard Catton agreed foundations were perceived to have a “harder style”. He said that, added to the lack of senior clinical leadership at regulator Monitor, could be associated with a male bias.

The same trend was apparent when deputy nursing directors were included in the figures. Taken together, nursing directors and deputies were 10.8 per cent male in non-foundation trusts but 15.5 per cent in foundations.

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Derby Hospitals Foundation Trust director of nursing Brigid Stacey said, as male nurses were in the minority, “they might want to fight harder to get to the top - to be the big fish”.

“It might be that men want to strive harder for those prestige [foundation trust] jobs,” she said.

However, NHS South Central chief nurse and director of clinical standards Katherine Fenton said she was “really, really surprised” at the figures.

She said: “My personal experience is that it [gender] has never held me back, and it’s not included as a factor in our appointment panels. It might have been true 25 years ago but it’s down to merit now.”

A smaller sample of 27 mental health trusts, where men make up a bigger proportion of the nursing workforce, shows a similar pattern as acutes.

Among mental health foundation trusts, 37.5 per cent of nursing directors were male, compared with 27.3 per cent of nurse directors at mental health non-foundations.

David Robinson, Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Foundation Trust director of nursing, quality and safety, said his trust, where three quarters of senior nurses were female, was an “exemplar”.

He said: “We try and ensure gender and ethnic balance throughout the organisation by nurturing talent. Flexible working applies right up to director level.”

Claire Murdoch, a former nurse who is now chief executive of Central and North West London Foundation Trust, admitted women had to break through a “glass ceiling” to get to the highest positions.

However, she said some of the gender imbalance was due to women consciously staying in their “comfort zone” rather than pushing themselves into more senior roles, which were harder to juggle with childcare.

 She said while employers should allow staff flexibilities to cope with senior roles and child care, there needed to be a “reality check” about how far that could go as board positions were largely full time jobs.

NHS Employers employment service deputy head Caroline Waterfield said Nursing Times’ findings did not show there was a “glass ceiling” for women, but rather that “there isn’t a glass ceiling for men”.

Nursing Times’ research suggested the gender imbalance was less pronounced among primary care trusts. As PCTs will be abolished from 2013, this could lead to many senior female nursing leaders being made redundant.

A Monitor spokesman said it was up to boards to choose the right person for the job.


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Readers' comments (53)

  • Doesn't this make up for the blatant sexism men get on the way up there? (Ducks and runs for cover!)

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  • I don't see the point of this 'investigation'. Nobody ever bothers making anything out of the fact there are far more female nurses than male ones???

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  • neither do I

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  • If they are mainly gay men does this make it all right?

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  • as a male I agree with the female respondents who rightly say 'if you want the tops jobs then go and get them' -stop bloody moaning and trying to play the 'discrimination card'. The male/female ratio is irrelevant, as is the so-called 'male attributes' argument. I have met some very powerful (and nice!) female leaders who did not sit around examining statistics but worked hard and got to the top.

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  • i've been asked quite a few times if i'm going to go into managment in the future. even got offered a job in second year of my training becuase they said we didn't have enough men, out in the community. not to mention in the past i have been told off from reading children's stories to kids becuase they have been sat on my lap, which is normal for a kid to do! it's so stupid, the majority of nurses have been okay but this is just from being a student god knows what it's going to be like when i'm a registerd nurse.

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  • It's got nothing to do with going and getting the top jobs if you want them, it has everything to do with who you know and whether your face fits I'm afraid, male or female.

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  • Steve Williams

    Oh oh here we go again. Wheel out the old stereotypical arguments...

    I'll just say this (before I join mike in ducking and running for cover...) The Americans have a saying that anyone can become President – if they want and work hard enough for it. Witness President Obama.

    The same holds true in other countries (regardless of gender) witness Golder Meyer, Margaret Thatcher, Cleopatra and Indira Gandhi. If you want it hard enough you'll get it.

    So... Not getting the top positions even though you make up the majority of the workforce? Go figga!

    Move over mike, make room in the bunker, I'm headed your way!

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  • I find this amazingly frustrating. I work as a band 6 in an Emergency Department, and when I ask around most of my colleagues if they would go for a senior post, most say "No, I can't be bothered with the hassle, it is too much responsability. It is not worth the money." Well, I went for it, I got the job.
    Now, they say that I got some sort of preferential treatment, because I am a man?!?!?
    Please, give us a break!

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  • Hey lets face it, they're only top hospitals because the nursing directors are male.


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