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.
Are women being blocked from the top nursing jobs at foundation trusts?