Only girls aloud and why boys don’t care

Guest blog post from Dr Andrew Clifton, Senior Lecturer in Health and Social Care at Leicester De Montfort University.

Women now account for around 15 percent of people working in all STEM industries and encouragingly these figures are on an upward trajectory from previous years (WISE 2015). However, campaigning groups such as WISE and Fawcett have a way to go before we attain a 30 percent critical mass or 50:50 target of achieving gender equality in non-traditional roles. The case for having more women in science, technology and engineering is both convincing and well made, but there appears to be an anomaly in the ‘traditional roles’ discussion, which concerns encouraging men into job roles which have traditionally been seen as female.

Image reproduced with kind permission from the artist, Jacquie Hughes.
Image reproduced with kind permission from the artist, Jacquie Hughes.

Currently there are 680,858 active nurses and midwives registered to practice in the UK (NMC 2015). Only 10 percent are male and these figures have remained static for twenty years, and actually, the percentage is slowly moving backwards to single figures. Clearly nursing in the UK is not a traditional role for boys and men. Without making claims of a correlation, surely it’s legitimate to suggest that if we can get more women into STEM industries, we must be able to get more boys and males into careers such as nursing, and thus break down these out-dated gender-specific job roles? Decoupling women from their constructed role as professional and family carers means we have to make a concerted effort to encourage and attract males into these roles, such as nursing, and expect males take on an equal share of caring within families.

As we can see from the STEM industries reversing years of gender inequality and gender stereotyping in the workplace, it is a challenge. A national and sustained campaign to attract boys and men into non-traditional roles is needed. Schools and universities could do much more to encourage boys to apply for nursing, allied health courses, and caring roles. Fundamentally we need a shift in public attitudes and employment practices which ‘lock-in’ women as professional workers for the state and personal carers for their families, and don’t encourage men into caring roles enough.

This is an issue of gender equality. The NHS and nursing in particular is a highly gendered profession and because of government cut backs careers prospects and conditions of employment are being seriously eroded for hundreds of thousands of women working in the caring professions. Why should women have to accept this? A realignment of gender roles in the workforce is required and part of that solution is getting boys and males to work as professional carers in non-traditional roles such as nursing.

© Dr Andrew Clifton, Senior Lecturer Health and Social Care:

Illustration ©Jacquie Hughes:, instagram: jacquie_hughes

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