Doctors and nurses

There was a time when doctors were men and nurses were women. In People at Work, the 1960s Ladybird book series, the nurse was female, and the carmakers, the policeman and the miner male. We can smile at the gender stereotypes from our 21st-century vantage point, but how far have we moved in reality?

Steve Tobak, the technology consultant and author, argues on his blog, The Corner Office, that men are still paid more than women “because they choose higher-paying jobs”.

He cites eight reasons, including: men choose more dangerous professions; men choose higher-paid careers that are also more stressful (surgery rather than general practice, for example); men work longer hours, including anti-social ones; and men are prepared to work in isolated and undesirable locations. His position is that when women do the same jobs as men, they earn at least as much – some may say more.

It is probably true that women tend to choose well-located, more sociable, less stressful and physically less demanding roles where the rewards may not be financial. But why? Take surgery, for instance. While more than 50 per cent of medical graduates are women, less than 5 per cent enter surgical fields.

I have just finished reading Joan Cassell’s book The Woman in the Surgeon’s Body, in which 33 women surgeons in the US are interviewed, tracked and compared. Cassell is an anthropologist, and the aim of her study is to examine the differences between male and female surgeons, and the internal and external forces affecting these differences.

She notes that “certain male-identified, death-haunted pursuits, such as surgery, test-piloting and race-car driving, are embodied occupations, and that (to some) the body of a woman … seems bizarrely out of place to their martial masculine practitioners”.

Until we examine some of the illogical connections we make between roles and those who should fill them, we are, in Ladybird language, not there yet.

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The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen. www.ft.com/womenblog

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.