Medical assistants have traditionally been women, to such a degree that positions in this field are considered “pink collar jobs.” About 90 percent of medical assistants are women, but that doesn’t mean that this area of work is free of sex and gender discrimination. While discrimination may be more complex in fields traditionally occupied by women, it’s still a very real factor and can prevent people of all sexes and gender expressions from being hired, getting equal pay, or receiving deserved promotions.
Gender discrimination against women in pink collar jobs
About 90 percent of medical assistants in the U.S. are female, reflecting the common association between low-prestige care-giving jobs and women. Just because a field is primarily dominated by women, however, doesn’t mean that those workers don’t experience gender discrimination.
Women who have worked in the pink collar sector for many years may be surprised when their male colleagues receive higher pay, better benefits and faster promotions. On average, women in these positions make about 88 percent of what their similar male co-workers do. The tendency to promote men more quickly and to give them more frequent raises is known as the “glass escalator effect.”
Interestingly, female supervisors are actually more likely to engage in this kind of gender discrimination against women in medical assistant positions. When men are supervised primarily by other men, the gap between the genders narrows, though it doesn’t disappear. White men are also more likely to benefit than men of color, while women of color are most likely to be overlooked for raises, promotions and benefits improvements.
Another area where men are favored as medical assistants is patient perception. Male medical assistants may be considered more educated or knowledgeable than women, including women who are their superiors. They may even be mistaken for doctors when they lack this training.
Gender discrimination against male medical assistants
While the pay imbalance exists in the woman-dominated, medical assisting field, doesn’t mean that men have it easier in every way. Male medical assistants may not be taken seriously by patients, doctors and the general public. Men in these types of jobs often suffer from the perception that they are effeminate or otherwise inadequately masculine. Male medical assistants are also more likely to be scrutinized heavily as possible abusers, especially when they work with children. This may be due to the popular perception that men are not inherently able to care for others and must thus be looking for sexual gratification or other advantages when they seek medical assistant positions.
It can be hard for qualified male candidates to get jobs at all, even though they rise through the ranks more quickly than women once they have been hired. Many employers automatically assume that any medical assistants they hire will be women, either consciously or unconsciously discriminating against men.
In December 2008, the Equal Opportunity Commission filed a suit alleging that national chain LA Weight loss had a company-wide policy of refusing to employ male medical assistants. Applicants for positions with this company had actually been told by managers that clients responded better to female counselors, so men were not welcome.
This type of discrimination operates in many other companies and can make it difficult for even well-trained male medical assistants to get work. In turn, this encourages fewer male applicants and helps maintain the female dominance in this field, reinforcing the stereotype. Men of color are especially likely to suffer from this type of discrimination and make less money than white male medical assistants.
While gender discrimination does exist in the field of medical assisting, it takes more complex forms than in fields such as technology, construction or manufacturing. Both men and women may find that their careers are adversely affected by the stereotype of the medical assistant as a woman. Acknowledging this fact and adopting strategies to avoid it can help workers have a better chance of getting a job and receiving the promotions they deserve.
It can be difficult for individual people to overcome gender discrimination in medical assisting, but this issue is not something that can be safely ignored. Workers should be willing to ask questions about hiring and pay decisions and keep track of their own salaries, promotion history and raises. This makes it easier to identify discrimination when it happens and prove it with hard evidence if necessary.
Medical assistants in supervisory positions should also take time to examine their own behavior. Taking steps to ensure that male applicants are considered seriously for medical assistant positions but not favored excessively for promotions and benefits can help balance the gender ratio and keep things fair. Many cases of gender discrimination in this field come from people who are not aware that they are actively discriminating, so paying attention to the role of gender could eliminate much of the inequality.
An increase in gender balance in the field of medical assisting also helps patients get used to the idea that men can be medical assistants, too. By normalizing men in caretaking roles, employers can reduce the stigma associated with these jobs and prevent patients from making assumptions about a medical assistant’s education or ability based solely on gender.