The Royal College of Nursing is to carry out research looking at how far societal views towards women have led to low earnings for nurses.
The college said it was commissioning the project to find out if pay for both male and female nurses had been affected by the possibility that policymakers, perhaps unconsciously, think of nursing as “women’s work”.
“The RCN is seeking… to test the hypothesis that nurses may have had low earnings because the profession is overwhelmingly female”
It said there was a “broad feeling” among nursing staff that the high proportion of women in the workforce – and a belief that they will carry on caring despite their working and economic situation – was related to decisions affecting their earnings.
The “widespread belief” among nurses that wage levels were not reflective of their skills and responsibilities was in addition to concerns about the effect of austerity on pay and conditions, said the RCN.
The union said it wanted to use the findings to “plot steps that the RCN can take for the future to improve the economic and employment situation of our members – both female and male”.
It stressed that the research was not looking at the gender pay gap, which has been featured in the media recently and shows the difference in average earnings between men and women working within the same organisation.
“The college encourages as many women as possible go into senior positions within nursing”
The union said it was inviting researchers to submit proposals by 14 May to work with the RCN’s employment relations department on the project. It wants to complete the majority of the work by the end of 2018.
“The RCN is seeking to commission research to test the hypothesis that nurses, both female and male, may traditionally have had low earnings because the profession is overwhelmingly female, and is therefore perhaps thought of by policymakers, whether consciously or unconsciously, as ‘women’s work’,” said an RCN spokeswoman.
“This research is not about the gender pay gap – that is, the difference between the amounts earned by men and women within a particular organisation or sector,” she said.
“We don’t yet know what the gender pay gap is in nursing, but given that the profession is 90% female, we hope that it will not be as pronounced as in some organisations and sectors. The college encourages as many women as possible go into senior positions within nursing,” she added.