Where have the men gone?

13th August 2004 at 01:00
Teaching is not the only profession to wrestle with finding a proper gender and age balance, a TES Scotland survey reveals.

As the Scottish Executive disclosed that it plans to look afresh at barriers that may be preventing men taking up a career in teaching, as well as targeting young recruits, other professions are facing similar - and often greater - problems.

While the imbalances are not all in the same direction, the one constant is that women predominate - except among hospital consultants and senior managers.

Figures from the British Medical Association indicate that 76 per cent of NHS consultants are men, and a frank report issued in June stated that this was only one example of "prevalent and widespread" discrimination against career progression; another is the fact that more than seven out of 10 consultants are white (the respective figures for Scottish teachers are 26 per cent male and 0.7 per cent are from the ethnic communities).

"The report makes uncomfortable reading," George Rae, chair of the BMA's equal opportunities committee, admitted.

In other professions, as in teaching, there is a familiar story - most nurses are women (90 per cent), as are most social workers (85 per cent), and the number of female lawyers and solicitors is on the rise.

While there are still more men than women practising law in Scotland, the balance of men has fallen over 10 years, from twice the number of women to just a third more. This is because more women are entering the profession each year (227 against 162 men in 2002), which has been the case for more than a decade.

There has also been a growth of in-house legal teams in areas such as banking and local government, the majority of which are staffed by women solicitors.

Neil Stevenson, deputy director of education and training at the Law Society of Scotland, said: "For several years, the number of women entering the profession has significantly outnumbered that of men and, equally importantly, women are rising to the top of the profession."

Others, however, report a different story. The Royal College of Nursing says that while the vast majority of nurses and midwives are female, "the gender profile is similar to that of other professions in so far as the higher the level of management, the lower the proportion of women". The same is true of social work.

The RCN is countering with an initiative aimed at levering more women into leadership positions; an 18-month programme is geared to helping nurses improve their "leadership capability".

Like other professions, nursing faces an ageing profile, with one in six aged 55 or more in NHS Scotland and eligible to retire by 2007. James Kennedy, director of the RCN in Scotland, says that this made it important for the Executive to fully resource and implement the McCrone-style pay and conditions package for nurses, Agenda for Change. Retention and progression were particularly important, Mr Kennedy said.

The peak age for teachers, the late 40s and early 50s, is largely reflected elsewhere. About half of social workers are aged between 40 and 54, and similar age profiles are reported for consultants, GPs and dentists.

Lawyers are slightly younger, but the numbers of those aged between 40 and 50 have crept up over the past 10 years. The largest single grouping of lawyers, however, are the 30-40s (3,543), who slightly outnumber those aged 40-50 (3,430).

While the dip in teacher morale appears to have been arrested, other professions have not experienced a similar McCrone effect. Almost 7 per cent of nurses quit each year, while the BMA talks of "a crisis in general practice in Scotland" with 60 per cent of family doctors reporting in 2001 that they were thinking of retiring early or changing career.

Older doctors are interested in a "retirement retention scheme" which would allow them to work more flexibly - similar to the teachers' winding-down scheme.

One clear trend in the face of these challenges is that the leading professional bodies will increasingly be targeting young people in schools, particularly those who have not been traditional recruits.

Last week saw a drive to persuade pupils to consider a career in medicine and healthcare, while lawyers' leaders are doing the same. "We are working closely with universities and schools to promote the profession to people who may not have traditionally considered it and have sponsored the young citizen's passport in Scotland to raise awareness of the law with all young people," Mr Stevenson said.

nicholas woolley 13

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