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In 2001, about 5 per cent of nurses were male, compared with about 8 per cent in 2017, according to the Canadian Nurses Association.Getty Images/iStockphoto

There are many initiatives aimed at encouraging women to enter male-dominated fields such as technology, engineering and finance, yet we hear very little about balancing professions that skew heavily female.

According to Statistics Canada, female health-care and social-assistance employees outnumbered their male colleagues nearly four and a half to one. The agency also found that 84 per cent of elementary and kindergarten teachers and 96 per cent of early childhood educators in 2016 were female. Furthermore, while Statistics Canada doesn’t track gender balance in the human resources profession, the American Bureau of Labor Statistics found that more than 70 per cent of the industry was female in 2018.

With so much emphasis on the value of bringing more women into professions such as engineering, why is there no discussion about balancing vocations dominated by women, such as HR? Does it stand to reason that those fields would benefit similarly, given greater gender balance?

“I personally have not heard of a push or concern for wanting to attract more males to the HR field,” said Beverly Somers, the principal consultant at New Brunswick-based SMART Human Resource Solutions Inc. “I'd say businesses in general are conscious of the balance of gender, but the HR field hasn't been singled out specifically as needing to be more balanced.”

Ms. Somers believes calls for gender balance in human resources have been few and far between because the abundance of female employees helps balance the overall work force of companies. “It seamlessly adds to the balance of gender in the corporate world by naturally allowing for more females to move into management and executive level positions,” she said.

Ms. Somers adds that the industry may gradually move toward a greater balance, due to some changes in the role of human resources professionals. While the industry was once heavily focused on people-management and relationship building, it is evolving to require different skills. Consequently, more men may be attracted.

“The HR function is believed to be primarily focused on relationship development and engagement, and therefore seems to appeal more to women,” she said. “The role and perception of HR is actually changing, and so too may the gender ratio. Future HR professionals will need to demonstrate strong technical and analytical skills and business acumen.”

Meantime, the education field shows no sign of mitigating the heavily skewed ratio of women to men.

“Our current work force in B.C. is roughly 80 to 85 per cent female, and that percentage is increasing, because the teachers education programs in the province have an even higher proportion of women,” said Glen Hansman, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation.

While Mr. Hansman is adamant that the quality of education provided by teachers is the same no matter a teacher’s gender, he feels it is important for students to interact with adults that are more representative of the population. He also fears that the fewer male teachers there are in a school, the less likely it is for male students to consider pursuing teaching -- further perpetuating the divide.

“Representation matters, and we're going to continue to have this phenomenon in education where the work force is markedly different in terms of demographics to the student population because it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said.

Despite these concerns, however, Mr. Hansman says he is not aware of any organized effort aimed at further balancing the gender gap.

“In B.C., there’s no system-wide conversation, let alone a strategy being tried to attract more men into the teacher education programs and into the work force,” he said.

That conversation is taking place in the Canadian nursing industry, and it may even be having an impact, but progress has been slow. In 2001, about 5 per cent of nurses were male, compared with about 8 per cent in 2017, according to the Canadian Nurses Association.

“There’s lots of talk happening now about how do we improve the situation in terms of getting more men interested as well as creating good learning environments to support men, and changing the way people look at participation in the profession,” explained Peter Kellett, a University of Lethbridge assistant professor whose research focuses on the gender divide in nursing.

For example, the American Assembly of Men in Nursing (AAMN) launched a campaign aimed at increasing male enrolment in nursing to 20 per cent by the year 2020, but reaching that goal seems unlikely, Mr. Kellett says. Among failed efforts to encourage more male participation, he points to a 2013 Oregon Centre for Nursing campaign, titled “Are you man enough to be a nurse?”

“You will certainly see, in any literature or recruitment materials, that there’s a lot more representation of men in images, and more diversity in general,” he said.

Mr. Kellett believes progress will be minimal until the industry addresses root causes of gender imbalance. They range from the lack of visibility of male nurses in the media, to the industry’s failure to present the career as a viable option to young men in high school, to long-standing stereotypes.

“So many people, when they hear the word ‘nurse,’ they just think of the woman in a white uniform,” he said.

He adds that it’s no coincidence these strategies are similar to those currently being employed in male-dominated industries looking to increase female participation.

The difference? In tech, engineering and finance, the amount of new initiatives, investments and efforts aimed at balancing the gender divide is far greater.

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