Male inequality in health, education, administration, and literacy (HEAL) jobs: Is skills-based hiring the answer?

Male inequality in health education administration and literacy (HEAL) jobs
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Everyone knows the urgent need to get women into STEM – that is, jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math. 

However, not everyone knows the other side of that equation: getting men into HEAL.

“HEAL” is a term coined by Richard Reeves, a psychologist, to describe jobs in health, education, administration, and literacy – roles in which men are drastically under-represented.

Reeves defines HEAL jobs as the opposite of STEM roles. They are more focused on people than products or processes, and they require more literacy than numeracy skills (hence the “L” instead of “M”).[1]

There is no inherent reason why HEAL jobs should fall disproportionately to women. The skills required to work in health services management are not exclusive to women. 

So, what can employers do to encourage more men to apply?

And how can we incentivize men to enter HEAL professions without replacing one form of inequality with another?

In this blog, we discuss answers to these dilemmas and give actionable strategies for employers to improve gender diversity in HEAL roles.

What’s the state of gender inequality in HEAL?

When we look at the top 10 women-dominated roles, almost all are HEAL occupations.

They are often roles that rely on emotional labor – or the regulation of one’s emotions as part of their role – such as health professionals (69% women) and personal care workers (88% women).

Occupations by gender graph

Note that these roles are still not as acutely dominated by women as the top male-dominated jobs are by men. 

For example, the most male-dominated industry, building and trades, is 97% men. On the other hand, the women-dominated personal care workers industry consists of 88% women.

Men also retain the advantage in management roles across industries, as only around 42% of managers are women. The number is less than the percentage of women in the overall workforce (48%).

However, the margins of difference for men in HEAL roles are still significant – and, as we discuss below, breaking down the stigma for men in HEAL roles can also improve women’s equal participation across industries.

Before we discuss how to make these changes, let’s take a closer look at the state of gender equality in each industry.


The bracket of “health professionals” listed above includes doctors and nursing staff

However, the skew in this profession is owing to nursing.

Women tend to go into different areas of medicine than men, for instance, choosing pediatrics (working with children) more often than surgical specialties. 

However, gender equality among doctors is relatively high. Roughly half of all doctors worldwide are women.

It’s a different story in nursing, where the percentage of male nurses is low, though slowly growing – from 8% in 2015 to 9.4% in 2020.

We can also see from the ILO data that just less than a quarter of health associate professionals – including assistants in pathology, imaging, and pharmacy – are men.


Although a primary school teacher does not remotely require gendered skills, teaching is another area overwhelmingly staffed by women. 

Skills like reading comprehension, communication, and time management apply to men as well as women.

However, just 25% of teachers are men.

This gender gap among teachers gets even bigger when working with younger students. Just 5% of infant and toddler teachers are men, and this is also true of prekindergarten teachers.

The percentage of men working as child development associate teachers is even smaller, at 3%.


Administration is perhaps one of the most gendered functions, with more than 90% of secretaries and administrative assistants being women, compared with 40-44% of workers generally.

As in teaching, this proportion is stable over time, with very little change over the past decade.

Women are also over-represented in other administrative or supportive capacities in business. Twice as many women as men work in customer service.

Percentage of women secretaries in the US graph


Although literacy is not an industry, there are discrepancies between men’s and women’s reading levels, both in children and adults.

In grade school, girls outperform boys in reading by 40% of a grade level and that’s true in every state.[2]

As we’ve seen, the education system is overwhelmingly staffed by women, so girls benefit from having plenty of role models in school for reading.

However, it could also be owing to how parents raise them outside of school.

Studies show that fathers are less likely to read than mothers, which means that children are exposed to fewer male role models for reading at a young age. Fathers of sons are also less likely to read to their children than fathers of daughters.

Women and girls outpace men and boys in book reading globally graph

Why do more women than men work in HEAL jobs?

Similarly to how women are under-represented in many industries, the most common explanation for the dearth of men in HEAL jobs is discrimination – in other words, men not being accepted into “women’s” jobs.

However, in both cases, discrimination is only a partial explanation. Legislation against discrimination in the workplace has made it harder for employers to discriminate on the grounds of gender.

The deeper explanation is that there still exists a gender application gap, with women and men applying at different rates to different industries.

Men send nearly 12% fewer applications to service occupations than women. Conversely, they send more to machine and craft occupations, even when they have similar educational and occupational backgrounds. 

There are a few reasons this gap exists. The first has to do with how certain roles have evolved throughout history.

A brief history of “women’s work”

The feminization of roles like nursing and teaching dates back to at least the 19th century because of their association with “feminine” traits like emotional intelligence and the capacity for nurturing.

Even after the First and Second World Wars, when women took up the jobs left behind by soldiers fighting in Europe, they still struggled to be accepted in jobs they were capable of because of these norms.

Many of the roles called “women’s work” today have evolved owing to historical gender norms from the past century. 

So-called “pink-collar jobs” emerged as a way out: jobs mainly staffed by women, which didn’t threaten prevailing gender norms and offered a way for women to participate fully in the labor market without too much opposition. 

With a foothold in these acceptably “feminine” institutions, women were able to make their way into more male-dominated sectors, such as STEM. So far, so good, right?

But there is a problem with this approach.

Progress in gender equality so far has been one-way

Many concerted and successful efforts to close the gender employment gap have occurred in the past few decades.

Women have gone from making up just 8% of STEM workers in 1970 to 27% in 2019 – a significant achievement.[3]

But although women have been breaking into so-called “male” professions, the same progress has not been made in the other direction.

Teaching is an example of this discrepancy. We already know that just a quarter of teachers in the US today are men. 

The number is down from a third in 1980 – and it’s not because fewer male teachers have entered the occupation.[4]

The number of men employed by public schools has actually grown by 31% since 1980 – more than the growth rate of the student body – however, the increase in the number of women going into teaching has far outstripped it.

The problem is simple: Many women are going into “men’s” jobs – but not enough men are not going into “women’s” jobs.

Men’s lack of participation in women’s jobs is due to ongoing stereotypes about men’s and women’s work.

Persistent stereotypes about “women’s work”

If we think of “men’s work” and “women’s work” as a Venn diagram, we can think of the shift in employment trends over the past fifty years as bringing the two circles into closer contact. 

There is more overlap now than before, and more roles that we no longer rigidly stereotype as a “man’s job” or “woman’s job.”

However, at either end, there are still extremes, and at one end of this spectrum, we have HEAL roles. 

Studies have shown that even when men find employment in HEAL industries, they face obstacles due to gender stereotypes. These issues include:

  • Social judgment. They can be perceived as “not real men” by peers, friends, and family. A study of male counseling students found even their friends and families teased and mocked them.

  • Difficulties with female peers. Men in female-dominated professions – much like women in male-dominated ones – face difficulties integrating with their colleagues.

    For instance, male doctors reported being reprimanded or mocked by female midwives for being “too emotional” with patients, which made it hard for them to advocate for themselves despite the power differential in their positions.

  • Discrimination by clients. In roles where clients expect to interact with women, men could face difficulties gaining experience or respect from clients.

    Childcare is one example in which men often face official and unofficial limitations on their interactions with children that their female colleagues don’t – for instance, being alone in a room with a child in their care.

  • Sexual prejudice. This type of prejudice is the experience of prejudice based on a person’s assumed sexual orientation. When it comes to their sexuality, men in so-called “women’s” jobs face questions about their sexuality and frequently feel alienated and more sexualized than their female peers. 

With all these obstacles in the way, what are the benefits of breaking down this divide for business leaders?

Why is promoting diversity and inclusion important in HEAL jobs?

Many benefits of diversity in the workplace exist, regardless of the industry you work in. 

However, as we’ve just discussed, diversity isn’t enough.

Without the proper support, men in HEAL roles can face challenges that could push them out of the sector. Companies need to be diverse and inclusive to see real change. 

We’ll discuss strategies employers can use to be more inclusive of men in HEAL roles below, but for now: 

What benefits can HEAL occupations access by being more inclusive of men?

It addresses skills shortages

There was a global shortage of 5.9 million nurses in 2020, according to the World Health Organization. 

Attracting more men to the profession – and, importantly, helping them stick around – could make up for this deficit.

It could also help with skills shortages to encourage men to nurture soft skills, which are usually associated with women. 

Addressing skills shortages becomes even more important over time because soft skill-intensive roles will make up two-thirds of all jobs by 2030.[5]

Without it, if the rigid gendering of soft skill-intensive roles persists, lower- and middle-class men risk being shut out of the job market.

Being shut out can have ripple effects for men, but also women and children.

It’s a similar story in teaching. Teacher shortages, especially in science and math, are rife in the US, so attracting more male teachers to these roles, in particular, could be the right thing to do.[6]

It brings better outcomes for students, patients, and companies

Addressing the shortage of nurses worldwide improves healthcare globally. But there is also evidence to suggest that a more diverse medical staff could directly improve patient outcomes.

Healthcare studies show that patients generally fare better when more diverse teams provide care.

There is also evidence that a gender-diverse teaching staff benefits outcomes directly. Finnish research suggests that a more gender-balanced teaching staff improves students’ scores on national matriculation exams.[7]

In terms of the benefits of bringing on more male administrative staff, there is no end of evidence that gender equity brings benefits to businesses.

Catalyst research has found that gender diversity and HR policies focused on this issue result in reduced employee turnover, which cuts costs.

Administrative staff are some of the most visible members of your organization. In terms of broadcasting your inclusive policies, they’re a great place to start.

It increases access to the workforce for all genders

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, helping men into HEAL professions helps women across all industries by breaking down the rigid binary of gender expectations. 

Women experience many of the same disadvantages when they work in “manly” jobs as the ones men experience doing “women’s work.” They face harassment for being “too manly,” are frequently seen as less competent, and also experience sexual prejudice.[8]

Desegregating men’s and women’s work is a way to break down the gender binary, creating more open and inclusive models of what it means to be a man or a woman. 

Apart from promoting equality across industries, desegregating work can also enable gender-diverse individuals to thrive. Reducing prejudice for one group means progress for everyone.

Can skills-based hiring alleviate gender inequality in HEAL?

Change in the workplace is overdue and could have a big impact. However, we understand that employers don’t have full control here. 

You can only hire from the applicants who apply to your roles and, as the gender application gap shows, you can determine the gender split in this pool long before you start hiring.

We start learning about gender from early childhood, and many of our career ambitions are shaped by our parents before we even understand what a job is. 

When asked what jobs they imagined for their children when they grow up, seven times as many parents said they could see their sons in construction as their daughters.

Almost three times more parents said they could see their daughters in nursing or care work than those who said the same about their sons.[9]

When we compare these answers with the stats about the gender application gap, it’s plain to see that parental attitudes could strongly affect these outcomes.

Parents also have a role to play in the skills their children develop. Research shows that parents talk about emotions more with daughters than sons, which contributes to their development of emotional intelligence.[10]

These differences explain, to some degree, why men’s and women’s preferences differ even when controlling for educational background.

We need to move the needle on societal expectations of men because many factors that determine men’s likelihood to enter HEAL professions affect them before they reach the jobs market – and that’s something employers can’t control.

However, employers can play their part in starting that movement by lowering the barriers that exist in the employment market for men in HEAL now.

Being inclusive of men and raising their numbers even slightly enables employers to spark change and create a generation of role models.

They can also release the benefits of promoting inclusivity in the workplace, which include greater engagement and employee satisfaction. 

A skills-based approach is the best way to do this – and it’s time to talk about strategies.

5 skills-based strategies to promote inclusion for men in HEAL

The key to increasing the number of men working in HEAL is removing two things: 

  1. Barriers to access, ensuring that men are not unduly discounted during the hiring process and can enter HEAL occupations

  2. Barriers to success, meaning that once in HEAL, men have equal opportunity to prove themselves, to access training, and to progress through the ranks

Five key skills-based strategies can help you with this.

5 skills-based strategies to promote inclusion for men in HEAL: Summary table

If you’re hiring for a HEAL role and want to get started, don’t worry – here is the short version.

Strategy for promoting inclusion for men in HEAL

Example action

Hire for skills rather than experience

Use skills testing instead of resumes to screen candidates

Use a structured interview technique

Ask all candidates the same questions and compare their answers using a pre-agreed grading system

Hire for culture add, not culture fit

Use a culture add test as part of pre-interview assessments

Use skills-based learning to develop all employees

Identify skills gaps in pre-interview assessments and use these to design a development plan

Create a skills-based internal talent marketplace

Log all employees’ skills test results in a spreadsheet and use this to identify candidates for progression

1. Hire for skills rather than experience 

One of the best ways to promote diversity and inclusion is to screen applicants based on their skills rather than the experience listed on their resumes. 

The easiest way to do this is through skills testing. Instead of asking every candidate to submit their resume, ask them to complete a skills test that targets all the core competencies of the role at hand. 

For example, skills tests for a Registered Nurse assess skills like: 

  • Critical thinking

  • Problem-solving

  • Time management

Testing skills is a more accurate predictor of job performance than resume screening. 

Indeed, research at the London School of Economics found that pre-hire work experience was not a good indicator of success in training or the job and that it also did not predict retention.[11]

Skills testing also widens your talent pool. 

The lack of men in HEAL makes it less likely that male candidates have extensive experience in the industry, even if they have all the requisite skills, but skills testing removes this barrier.

They also reduce bias by giving you solid data from which to screen applicants. 

You can use this later in the hiring process to compare their fit for the role and ensure that interviewers’ assessments are consistent with the data.

Hiring for skills is highly valuable because research shows that bias training is not enough to eliminate gender bias when it comes to hiring for gendered roles – even when the hiring manager is a minority gender in that industry.

For example, Yale University researchers examining hiring among scientists found that even when interviewers received training on objective hiring, they still preferred to hire men.[12]

Given the prevalence of men in STEM, this is perhaps unsurprising, and it is not far-fetched to suspect the pattern could repeat itself in HEAL.

2. Use a structured interview technique 

As we just touched on above, it’s no good getting a diverse range of candidates into your interviews if interviewer bias could stop them from being hired.

In addition to skills testing, you should consider using a structured interview technique to avoid this.

In a traditional unstructured interview, the interviewer improvises questions without first agreeing on the key criteria for a “good” answer with stakeholders. 

Every applicant gets asked different questions in a different order, which makes it difficult to compare applicants objectively.

When you have a structured interview, on the other hand, you ask all candidates:

  • The same questions

  • In the same order

  • Judged on the same pre-agreed criteria

Particularly in combination with the results of a pre-interview assessment, this enables interviewers to compare candidates’ performance objectively and to challenge their assumptions about each candidate using hard evidence.

Structured interviews ensure that they give the same opportunity to each candidate to prove their fit for the role. It’s important in industries dominated by a single gender, like HEAL.

Here, interviewers’ expectations for what the ideal applicant looks like could be gender-specific, and without data support, they could unconsciously judge male or gender non-conforming candidates more harshly.

3. Hire for culture add, not culture fit 

We’re aware that many tout gender equity as a silver bullet, but we know better. 

We recognize that increasing the gender diversity on your team can cause issues if it’s not handled correctly, especially in a HEAL industry where most of your staff are of one gender. 

Harvard researchers found that the wrong mix of “personal diversity” – which included factors like age and gender – could inhibit teams’ abilities to work together because employees had less common ground. 

They found it less enjoyable to spend time together, had less trust and patience for each other, and experienced more conflict.

It’s important, therefore, to check that all of your applicants share a purpose with your existing employees to ensure that if you hire a man into a HEAL team, he has a unity of vision with your team.

This unity of vision is where culture add comes in.

The traditional concept of culture fit is partly responsible for the gender imbalance in HEAL.

Culture fit deals with superficial characteristics like whether a candidate has the same interests or sense of humor as the hiring manager. 

It can lead to cliques, groupthink, and even bullying if an otherwise tight-knit group rejects a newcomer.

Culture add, on the other hand, is about finding a candidate who shares your organization’s vision and values but brings a different perspective or way of working to the team. 

Especially for a male HEAL applicant coming from another industry, this could be a great way to promote harmonious diversity. Test for it in pre-interview assessments and target culture add factors in interviews.

4. Use skills-based learning to develop all employees

In roles dominated by one gender, you could find that skills are swapped more easily between employees of the same gender because they can form automatic relationships or relate to one another in a mentoring capacity.

For this reason, minority employees can fall behind in skills and fail to advance at the same rate as their peers. 

Issues of pay inequality in your organization can occur because men fail to progress and earn on average less than their female peers.

To level the playing field, organizations should adopt skills-based learning initiatives for all employees. 

Skills-based learning is about creating individual development plans targeting the holes in employees’ skill sets, then delivering this training in an on-the-job environment with a quick turnaround between learning and application.

For example, you could notice that a HEAL employee scored lower on one area of their pre-interview assessment than another. 

When you see this issue, you can create a plan to target training in this area.

This approach is useful in HEAL roles because the focus on a hands-on learning approach greatly benefits the development of the soft skills that are central to many HEAL roles.

These upskilling strategies could seem superfluous but they’re worth investing in. 

More than 90% of chief executive officers who introduce these programs see an increase in productivity, an improvement in acquisition and retention, and more resilience among employees. 

5. Create a skills-based internal talent marketplace

Finally, to facilitate many of the activities above, you should create a skills-based internal talent marketplace to store these rich employee skills data.

A talent marketplace means that once you hire a candidate, you input their skills test results into a spreadsheet or dedicated software alongside those of their peers. 

You can then use this information to support many initiatives, including: 

  • Identifying core skills when hiring for future roles 

  • Spotting candidates for promotion based on skills, not personal relationships with managers

  • Redeploying employees into roles with adjacent skills

  • Crafting development plans based on gaps in employees’ skill sets 

To keep this internal talent marketplace up-to-date, you should also periodically assess the skills of your employees to get an overview of the resources available in your workforce and use skills tests to track employees’ progress through skills training.

These efforts promote equal opportunity for internal mobility because you can select candidates for progression based on skills rather than personal relationships with managers. 

An internal marketplace helps you not just attract but also retain and nurture men in HEAL roles.

It can even have an overall positive impact on retention and engagement. 

Employees who move into jobs internally are more than three times as likely to be engaged compared with employees who stay in one role.[13]

Skills-based hiring enables employers to push for gender equality in HEAL jobs

If you came to this blog hoping to find out how your organization can make a radical change for men in HEAL, we don’t have the ultimate answer.

As we outlined above, structural inequities go beyond the workplace and make it difficult for men to enter the sector.

However, we can promise you that the strategies above can help you create small changes that will ripple into big ones. 

Every man you hire into a HEAL role is a potential role model for others, and their liberation from outdated gender norms can help advance gender equality in the workplace for everyone.

If you’re ready to get started with skills-based hiring in HEAL, find out the top soft skills you should be looking for in your industry.

To learn more about inclusive retention practices, read our blog about the best ways to reward and retain talent.

Finally, if you’re ready to hire inclusively for your next role, use our Culture Add test to hire the best applicants.


  1. Reeves, Richard V. (September 22, 2022). “Men can HEAL”. Substack. Retrieved May 04, 2023. 

  2. Reeves, Richard V.; Smith, Ember. (October 12, 2022). “Boys left behind: Education gender gaps across the US”. Brookings. Retrieved May 04, 2023. 

  3. Martinez, Anthony; Christnacht, Cheridan. (January 26, 2021). “Women Are Nearly Half of U.S. Workforce but Only 27% of STEM Workers”. US Census Bureau. Retrieved May 04, 2023. 

  4. Ingersoll, Richard; Merrill, Lisa; Stuckey, Daniel. (April 2014). “Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force”. Consortium for Policy Research in Education. Retrieved May 04, 2023.\_researchreports 

  5. O’Mahony, John; Rumbens, David. (May 2017). “Soft skills for business success”. Deloitte. Retrieved May 04, 2023. 

  6. Turner, Cory; Cohen, Nicole. (March 23, 2023). “6 things to know about U.S. teacher shortages and how to solve them”. NPR. Retrieved May 04, 2023. 

  7. “Young children may benefit from having more male teachers”. (June 30 2022). The Economist. Retrieved May 04, 2023. 

  8. Chira, Susan. (August 02, 2018). “The ‘Manly’ Jobs Problem”. The New York Times. Retrieved May 04, 2023. 

  9. “Gender stereotypes are limiting children’s potential and causing lifelong harm”. (December 15, 2020). Fawcett Society. Retrieved May 04, 2023. 

  10. Chaplin, Tara M; Aldao, Amelia. (July 2013). “Gender Differences in Emotion Expression in Children: A Meta-Analytic Review”. Psychol Bull. Retrieved May 04, 2023. 

  11. “Previous work experience is not a good predictor of how people will perform in a new job”. (June 21, 2019). London School of Economics blog. Retrieved May 04, 2023. 

  12. Agarwal, Pragya. (December 3, 2018). “Unconscious Bias: How It Affects Us More Than We Know”. Forbes. Retrieved May 04, 2023. 

“Skill Building in the New World of Work”. (2021). LinkedIn Learning. Retrieved May 04, 2023.\_Workplace-Learning-Report-2021-EN-1.pdf

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