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“I’ve been a nurse for 20 years. The male nurses I work with have a different pay track”

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This story is part of Fast Company‘s Gender Pay Gap package “Short Changed.” In honor of Equal Pay Day, the symbolic day that women have to work for free to match men’s earnings, we are exploring elements of pay inequality though the personal stories of women across industries and career stages who experience it every day. Click here to read the whole series.

Men have historically shied away from jobs that are perceived as women’s work. These so-called pink-collar jobs, which include nursing and teaching, frequently pay less than male-dominated fields and carry the stigma of being more “feminine” work. But research shows that when men do enter fields that are considered women’s work, they often earn more money than their female counterparts or move up the ranks with more ease.

As male-dominated blue-collar jobs have become more scarce, some men have turned to pink-collar work. Over the last five decades, the percentage of men in the nursing industry has reportedly jumped from about 2% to 13%. And multiple studies indicate that the influx of male nurses has been accompanied by a pay gap across specialties, even controlling for workplace experience and differences in career trajectory.

What does that mean for the women who have long been the backbone of the nursing industry?

Kelley Rieger has been a nurse practitioner for 20 years and is the chief operating officer of Show Me Your Stethoscope, an advocacy group and online community for nurses and other healthcare providers. Rieger talked to Fast Company about why women gravitate to the nursing field, how men in her field are treated, and what she has learned about negotiating and advocating for herself–and nurses as a whole. Her account has been edited for space and clarity.

I originally graduated with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field–exercise science–and I took a job working at a virology lab. After about a day or two of working in a lab, looking at microscopes and test tubes all day, I thought that this wasn’t the right choice for me. And then after about a month or two, I realized that it definitely was not the right choice for me. That was the lowest paying job I’ve ever had–$18,000 right out of college. I realized it wasn’t going to work for me financially, or for job happiness.

I worked with a nurse practitioner who was amazing, and I said to her, “I want to do what you do.” It was holistic care–I felt like nurses looked at the whole person........

© Fast Company