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Nursing still ‘undervalued’ and stereotyped as ‘women’s work’

Nursing still ‘undervalued’ and stereotyped as ‘women’s work’

Action must be taken to combat misconceptions of nursing as ‘women’s work’ and to recognise the vital contributions of the profession, nurse leaders have urged.

To mark International Women’s Day those among the profession have highlighted the importance of valuing and investing in the nursing workforce.

In a video posted on social media chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Pat Cullen described the fact that 90% of the nursing workforce is female as ‘one of our greatest strengths’.

However, she added that: ‘In 2024, nursing is undervalued. Our work lacks the reward it deserves. Misconceptions of nursing as women’s work and other gender stereotypes still need to be fully shaken off.’

Ms Cullen continued: ‘Our skilled roles rely on science and education, as well as compassion and care.

‘Nursing is a profession where women use knowledge, innovation, leadership, and insight every day of the year. We are a profession with so much to demonstrate about the achievements and leadership of women.

‘Let’s say loudly together: do not overlook us; include us; value what we do.’

Women make up 90% of all nurses in the UK but fill less than a third of senior positions and earn on average 17% less than men, according to RCN data from 2020.

And recent research published by the Institute of Fiscal Studies also found that female nurses who took maternity leave had less active career progression for years after returning to work, compared to male colleagues without children.

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has marked International Women’s Day with a call to governments to recognise the benefits of investing in nurses as well as the value and contribution they make to society.

ICN president Dr Pamela Cipriano said: ‘Nursing is a 90% female profession, and the care nurses provide is often undervalued without recognition of the substantial positive economic impact that nurses contribute to health care.

‘Investing in nursing creates dividends, not just for nurses and the patients they care for, but for the safety, dignity and prospects of all women and girls.’

She added: ‘Today would be a good day for governments to recognise that investing in women, and in nursing in particular, that brings health, economic and societal benefits that far outweigh their initial costs.

‘We need many millions more nurses, both women and men, to meet the needs of the world’s growing population, and there are millions of women who would willingly join the ranks of the nursing profession if they were only given the chance to do so.

‘We are calling on governments to do just that so that we can finally reap the rewards of a far-sighted investment in the good of us all.’

Meanwhile, Queen’s Nurse Catherine Best, in a special post on the Queen’s Nursing Institute website today, emphasised the difference that nurses can make through networks and education.

She said: ‘The more that we as nurses are able to recognise the subtle and not-so-subtle signs of, for example, sex trafficking, domestic and sexual violence, domestic abuse, gaslighting and coercion, the more we are able to help.

‘We may not change the world, in fact, it’s unlikely we will, but we can change the lives of women who come under our care. And that, it could be argued, is all that matters.’

In addition, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) made calls at the TUC Women’s Conference for investment into midwifery by forgiving student midwife debt and making flexible working opportunities a reality for midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs).

The RCM’s director of representation and organising Lynn Collins said at the time: ‘On the eve of International Women’s Day, I can’t think of a more fitting motion to support than this on flexible working.

‘The majority of our members are women, and many of them have caring responsibilities. Their shift patterns are often “take it or leave it’” and that lack of flexibility is why so many midwives and MSWs are leaving the profession.’

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