intersectionality and the nursing profession

The gender ratio in social work is similar to the gender ratio in nursing.

I came across that today, and also an article about how black men are less discouraged from the field by gender stereotypes.

But in a study of black men in nursing, I found that they by and large were unfazed by the perceptions of nursing as a “woman’s job.” They were aware of the stereotypes about gender and nursing and obviously noted that most of their colleagues in the field were women. But for black men, the gender-based pressures to avoid this professional field were muted by other forces that they found more compelling.

For one thing, racial and gender discrimination means that higher-status jobs like law, medicine, engineering, and finance that white men may pursue aren’t available to them. While even lower status jobs like manufacturing and construction have long been areas where white men could earn comfortable wages doing skilled work, racial discrimination in these fields means that black men often face barriers to their entry, pay, and promotions. In a study of white working-class men employed in the construction industry, for instance, sociologist Kris Paap found that one way these men protect their shrinking “turf” is by reinforcing gendered and racial boundaries through social exclusion and even taunting those they don’t think belong.

With blocked routes to skilled work in construction, trade work, or high-status corporate positions, black men see nursing as a relatively welcome alternative. Another black male nurse I interviewed, Leo, told me, “This is a good job for black men. It makes you work harder mentally as opposed to work in a public setting like construction. It’s not like working in the heat, or in a field, bus driving or something. It’s a different type of taxing because it works your mind, your heart.” This helps to explain why sociologist Mignon Duffy finds that black men are a growing number of those present in lower-tier health care work (e.g., home health care aides, nursing assistants, and so forth) relative to men of other racial backgrounds.

In addition, many of the men in my study were motivated to enter the profession because they believed this field offered opportunities to be of service to black communities. Specifically, they felt that work in the nursing profession offered a way to address the long history of medical racism that has adversely affected black communities, leading to racial health disparities and gaps in treatment, care, and access. Stephen, an orthopedic nurse, told me that poor black patients who have been overlooked in the health care system will benefit from being cared for by someone who looks like them, someone “who knows the system, to be a change agent for them.” This motivation to assist minority communities is one most white men who enter nursing likely would not share, which may make black men the most primed to be recruited into the field.

But their interest in nursing rarely elicited a warm welcome and stories of being confused for housekeeping or socially isolated remain common.