Our Nurse.com salary report of 4,520 nurses in the U.S. revealed male nurses consistently out earn female nurses to the tune of more than $6,000 annually.
Nursing experts believe the reasons for this tremendous pay gap are multi-factorial but also fixable.
The gap can be narrowed with the use of proactive strategies on the part of nurses who are job seekers and possibly even recruiters, if empowered to contribute to organizational policy regarding gender equitable salaries.
Possible reasons for the salary gap between genders
One reason men typically earn more than women can be traced to some behaviors that men exhibit, said Robert G. Hess Jr., PhD, RN, FAAN, executive vice president and chief clinical executive at Nurse.com by OnCourse Learning and founder and CEO of the Forum for Shared Governance.
“There is a pay gap as a result of some of the things that men tend to do, such as men negotiate their salaries more often than women,” he said. “The Nurse.com survey found 45% of the men who responded said they negotiate their salary ‘most of the time or always’ negotiate, compared to only 34% of the women respondents.”
Learning the art of negotiation and the practice of self-advocacy are skills that nurses are not generally taught in nursing school, said Blake K. Smith, MSN, RN, president-elect of the American Association for Men in Nursing, a member of the leadership team of the Nebraska Action Coalition and clinical documentation senior analyst at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, who specializes in the delivery of patient education and plan of care through the healthcare system’s electronic health record.
“Nursing provides great education on how nurses should advocate for patients, but we need education on how to advocate for ourselves, such as learning negotiation skills regarding pay, benefits and job opportunities,” he said. “These are skills that are not embedded into the DNA of nurses or the development of our workforce.”
In addition to the practice of negotiation, another difference in behavior between male and female nurses is men are more willing than women to relocate to another state for a nursing job, Hess said.
Our survey data revealed 23% of the men versus only 16% of the women respondents said they were willing to move out of state for a better paying nursing job.
“Relocation to another state known for paying higher nursing wages is one way to earn a higher salary,” Hess said.
In the same vein, Hess said according to the report, men also are typically willing to commute further to work or be travel nurses compared to women (5% of men versus 2% of women), and men are more likely to work for a registry or in a float pool than women (8% men versus 5% women).
These career choices also can impact pay rates and result in overall higher salaries for men, he said.
Career breaks also may lower women’s salaries
Another lifestyle factor that also impacts women’s careers is that sometimes their earnings are the second income for a couple or family. This increases the likelihood of their willingness to take a break in their career due to family obligations, such as child rearing or caring for aging parents or other relatives – with the primary earner of the family staying on the job, Hess said.
Taking time away from one’s career because of pregnancy, childbirth or caring for a loved one also can negatively impact a women’s earnings.
“Breaks in one’s career, for any reason, can take a toll on overall earnings and tamp it down over time,” Hess said.
How can nurses close the gender pay gap?
Arming oneself with knowledge when engaged in job seeking and learning about the current job market is key to earning the best salary possible. There are ways to narrow and even close the gender salary gap, Hess said.
“Job seekers need to study the market and research what the salaries are for the type of nursing position they are pursuing, what the going pay rates are in their area, and for the particular organization they want to work for,” Hess said.
Once a nurse knows the pay rates for the job he or she wants, the other key to earning the best salary possible is being willing to negotiate if an offer is lower than expected compared to the going rate, Hess said.
“Learning how to negotiate is essential,” he said. “You also need to know what the lowest rate is you’ll accept, and if that’s not being offered and you can’t bring the number up, you also need to know when to walk away.”
What can nurse recruiters do to address the gender pay gap?
Hess said if nurse recruiters have the opportunity to participate in policy development of their organization, they can influence gender equality.
“Someone in human resources is involved in the decisions related to pay rates being offered,” he said.
A diverse nursing workforce can help narrow the gap, Smith added.
“Recruiters can help close the salary gap by attracting more inclusion into the profession,” Smith said. “Bringing more parity to nursing when there are closer numbers of men and women in the profession, could help identify more reasons why a salary gap exists.”
Nurses are highly regarded in the community because of their compassion for others, Smith said.
“Compassion does not know gender, race or ethnicity. We must continue to come together and support all of our colleagues equally when there are deficiencies in our profession as we do for our patients,” he said. “We at the AAMN want our female colleagues to know that we are here to support and advocate for them. Every nurse executes the same work and should be compensated in the same manner.”