There are many ways one could go about celebrating International Women’s Day (March 8th) this year. You could helpfully remind your Congressperson that the United States is virtually the only developed country on earth that doesn’t federally mandate paid maternity leave, for one. While you’re at it, you could ask them to reintroduce equal pay for equal work legislation, for another. Or, a personal favorite, you could dig up your old collection of Susan B. Anthony coins and use them to buy lunch. Here at Soliant, though, we just want to take a moment to celebrate women in healthcare, a field in which women arguably work harder and make a larger impact than they do in any other.
According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up over 75% of the American healthcare workforce; by contrast, women are only 47% of the nation’s overall workforce. That’s astonishing. If women comprised 75% of, say, talk show hosts, the world wouldn’t be able to stop talking about it, including on talk shows hosted by women not named Ellen DeGeneres, finally. But it’s only in comparative obscurity that women are playing a principal role in the care that Americans are receiving. In fact, the ratios are even starker when it comes to the healthcare workers who spend their days deep in the trenches in some of the most thankless jobs in the industry. Registered nurses? 90% women. Occupational therapists? 89%. Dental hygienists? 97%.
But strength in numbers isn’t the only reason why women are so vital to healthcare. As women’s overall share of the American workforce has increased from only 34% in 1950, they have gravitated to the industry as one in which they can both make a real difference and be recognized for it, at least in terms of relative compensation. According to a 2010 BLS report, of the top twenty highest paying occupations for women, almost half—nine, to be specific—were within the healthcare field (female physicians and surgeons ranked number one overall with median weekly earnings of over $1600). No wonder women love their work more than men – doing something rewarding and being well paid at the same time is certainly one path to job satisfaction. Well, that or nap pods and free sundae bars, but we can’t all work at tech conglomerates. Let’s see Mark Zuckerberg try being a nurse for one day and see how he does.
Of course, there is still lots of work to be done. Even as women demographically dominate the healthcare field, only around 40% of healthcare executives are women. That disproportionate representation is yet more proof that the glass ceiling isn’t shattered yet. Higher aspirations to one day rank among Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare should be vigorously encouraged and supported. So on Wednesday, don’t just thank the women in your life who work in healthcare for doing the tough, dirty jobs and making lives better. Encourage them to pursue a future in healthcare leadership too.