By Yasmin Noone
New research has shown that some men working in residential aged care feel discriminated against by their female co-workers, even though sexual discrimination is typically considered a woman’s issue.
The findings, detailed in the Aged Care Workforce 2012 Final Report released this week, show that men working in residential facilities experienced discrimination from colleagues, supervisors and care recipients.
Male and migrant workers were selected for interview in the National Institute of Labour Studies (NILS) research, purely because they were identified as one group filing some of the vacancies in the direct care workforce.
Unexpectedly, the interviewers heard that men had difficulty working in a field that is dominated by and constructed around Australian-born, mature-aged women.
According to the report, sexual discrimination was often dealt with by men “through humour and re-education, but some workers indicated frustration with continually having to prove their competence”.
Lead author of the report from the NILS, Associate Professor Debra King, said about 30 of the 100 people interviewed were male.
Asked what it was like to work in aged care, the interviewees stated how they were experiencing discrimination.
“They [said] they don’t get discriminated much in day-to-day life so when they were confronted with it, it was ‘really’ confronting,” said A/Prof King from Flinders University.
“It could have been something like [the organisation] didn’t have a men’s t-shirt on hard for the uniform. So they have to wait six months before they get the proper t-shirt and have to make do with a woman’s style or use something else until then.
“But sometimes it’s more serious like discrimination from colleagues, in terms of exclusionary tactics, being objectified as a male or the sexualisation of their care work.
“…It’s not something we explored a lot in our research but something that came out of it. It’s a really intriguing aspect of aged care.”
A/Prof King added: “I think the other issue that doesn’t get discussed enough for men or women is that a lot of the female clients don’t want a man washing them. The [older woman] may have reached this age and the only man who has seen them naked was their husband.
“So this was an issue for male workers because they were made to feel sexualised in a way they found difficult.”
A/Prof King said the research also showed that men don’t seem to have a clear pathway into an aged care career.
“Working in residential aged care tends to be quite serendipitous,” A/Prof King said.
“It’s something [a job] men fall into. Someone may have said, ‘why don’t you try aged care?’ Someone has validated aged care as an option for them but if that hadn’t happened, then they probably wouldn’t have considered it, primarily because it’s such a female-dominated industry.”
The research found that men tended to find a niche in aged care and stick to it.
For example, they might provide care to other men and care recipients with difficult behaviours.
“However,” the report states, “this ‘matching’ was not always possible and workers also had to provide services to the broader population of older Australians and deal with any discrimination that this involved.”
A/Prof King said the the proportion of men working in residential aged care has stayed much the same over the last five years while the numbers have increased a few percentage points in the community care field.
Yet, on the whole, more men are working in the aged care sector.
“There are not many jobs out there for low-skilled men, so the areas where low skilled men would have traditionally worked are not available to them. So if you have up and go or been in another job that’s people-orientated, you might see aged care as an option.
“And it is an option for them. There’s an opportunity there for men to work in aged care. They are made to see that this is something that they, as men, can do, and they don’t need to be a woman to do it.”
The research was commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing.