8 Ways to Promote Equal Pay in Nursing

Joelle Y. Jean, FNP-C, BSN, RN
Updated August 29, 2022
    Women dominate the field of nursing but continue to earn less than men. We discuss how the gender pay gap works and what you can do to even the playing field.
    A female Asian-American nurse standing proudly and smiling for the camera in a hospital hallway.

    Imagine the first few hours of your shift. Morning rounds are complete. The call bell rings, and IV pump alarms sound. There are medications to administer and blood transfusions to perform. A patient wants to be moved to a different room. Staff needs help with a combative patient. All this, and your shift has just begun.

    Sound familiar? There’s no question that being a nurse is demanding. Nurses must multitask and handle difficult situations while providing patient-centered care. However, nursing jobs are stable, pay well, and remain in high demand.

    The real problem isn’t the work. It’s that female nurses earn 10 cents less than their male counterparts. That’s $7,300 a year. Black, Hispanic and Latina, and Indigenous nurses make even less.

    While male and female nurses draw equal salaries in some specialties, 87% of nurses are women. The nursing profession has a lot of work to do to close its gender pay gap.

    Here, we discuss eight actionable ways to promote equal pay in nursing and empower nurses to help close the pay gap.

    Fast Facts About Equal Pay

    • check-circleWomen make 82 cents to every dollar that non-Hispanic, white men make.
    • check-circleBlack/African American, Hispanic/Latina, and Indigenous women earn even less to every dollar a non-Hispanic, white male makes.
    • check-circleFemale nurses earn $7,300 less annually than their male counterparts.
    • check-circleLack of negotiation can be the root cause of the gender pay gap in nursing.

    The Gender Pay Gap Explained

    The gender pay gap is the ratio of female-to-male annual earnings for full-time workers. In 1963, the Equal Pay Act passed to end wage discrimination based on sex and gender. However, discrepancies in pay still exist today.

    The pay gap is rooted in gender, racial, sexual orientation, and gender identity discrimination. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), women make 18 cents less than men, or 82 cents to every dollar a man makes.

    White women’s pay gap is expected to close in 50 years. The wage gap for women of color is even wider, with a longer time frame to close. At the current rate:

    • Latin American women’s pay gap will not close for another 432 years (55 cents to every dollar).
    • African American women’s pay gap will not close for another 365 years (63 cents to every dollar).
    • Asian American and Pacific Islander women’s pay gap will not close for another 22 years (85 cents to every dollar).

    Female nurses make less than male nurses, although women dominate the workforce. Regardless of educational level, experience, and age, women make 91 cents to every dollar a male nurse makes. Even female nurses with in-demand certifications earn less than their male counterparts.

    While this disparity is grounded in gender discrimination, male and nonbinary nurses are reportedly more likely to negotiate their salaries than female nurses.

    8 Actionable Ways Nurses Can Advocate for Pay Equality

    What can you do to help close the gender gap?

    Recently, there have been massive undertakings to end gender-based pay disparities. The U.S. women’s soccer team is currently in a lawsuit with the United States Soccer Federation for equal pay. In addition, the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pushed for laws to end gender wage discrimination.

    Ending the gender pay gap is a process that will take time. However, you can help on a smaller scale. Here are eight actionable ways you can advocate for pay equality.

    1. Discuss salary openly with co-workers

    Openly discussing your salary with co-workers can ignite a conversation about the gender and racial wage gap in nursing and encourage pay transparency. Knowing what your co-workers make may shock you and propel you to ask for a raise!

    2. Become a member of your local nursing association, or serve on a nursing board

    When you join your local nursing association or become a board member, your input helps to make decisions. You can also play a huge role in leading the discussion on nursing’s gender pay gap and help shape policies like:

    • Access to paid sick days
    • Comprehensive family and medical leave programs
    • Increased access to child care

    3. Attend nursing lobby day

    Become familiar with lobby day, what’s on the agenda, and how laws are passed. Suggest exploring equal pay for women nurses.

    4. Ask for an increase in salary during performance reviews

    Revisiting your salary and asking for higher wages during your performance review is another way to help close the gender pay gap. This might feel intimidating, so here are a few tips from an experienced nurse on how to negotiate a higher salary.

    5. Initiate a lunch and learn on negotiating salaries

    Gather information on salary negotiation and share what you’ve learned with your colleagues. Creating a space for an open dialogue about compensation can empower others to advocate for higher wages.

    6. Organize a meet and greet with the talent acquisitions team

    The talent acquisitions and financial team decides your salary. Suggest organizing a meet and greet with the team to encourage discussions on salary transparency.

    7. Wear Red on Equal Pay Days

    Equal Pay Days highlight how many more days into the year women must work, on average, to reach a male’s salary. Because the wage gap is wider for some women than others, equal pay days for each demographic occur on different days throughout the year. Here are the Equal Pay Days for 2021:

    • March 9, 2021: Equal Pay Day for Asian American and Pacific Islander women
    • March 24, 2021: Equal Pay Day for all U.S. women
    • August 3, 2021: Equal Pay Day for Black women
    • September 8, 2021: Equal Pay Day for Native American women
    • October 21, 2021: Equal Pay Day for Latina women

    8. Work for a hospital with a nursing union

    According to Nurse.com’s 2020 Nurse Salary Research Report, nurses who worked in union hospitals enjoyed higher salaries. While union representation is higher in some states than others, there were significant salary differences among union-represented registered nurses (RNs).

    Unionized RN Salary

    Non-Unionized RN Salary

    Source: Nurse.com 2020 Nurse Salary Research Report

    Working Together to Minimize the Gender Pay Gap in Nursing

    The gender pay gap will stop being front-page news when the gap closes. Nurses must work collectively to end wage disparities by negotiating their salaries, speaking out against gender discrimination, and demanding the same pay as their male counterparts.

    According to BLS data, the workforce should add more than 221,000 new nursing positions from 2019-29. Let’s make positive changes now so future nurses can focus more on their patients than their salaries.