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Job satisfaction in the field: women speak out.

MLO asked female laboratories about career likes and dislikes, whether professional opportunities are equal for both sexes, and advantages to be gained from being a woman in the lab.

The clinical lab has long been a woman's world, at least in numbers. Women occupy 81% of fulltime positions and 86% of part-time positions in the labs of respondents to MLO's latest panel study (see "Survey methodology," page 24). Does being in the majority afford women special advantages over male colleagues? Or does a preponderance of females reduce salaries, benefits, perks, and social standing, as has traditionally been the case in many professions?

MLO's national survey asked respondents to share their impressions of life in the lab. They were questioned about the extent of their career satisfaction and their concerns regarding the present and future of women in the field.

MLO surveys are sent to our Professional Advisory Panel of laboratorians in supervisory positions. For this study, to obtain feedback from women below that rank, we asked each male panelist to pass his questionnaire to a nonsupervisory female technologist. One indignant male panelist, a lab supervisor in a Massachusetts hospital, refused. "MLO cannot adequately serve lab professionals without allowing male representation," he said. "Most of this survey applies to either sex." True, but we were looking for a uniquely female point of view this time--and we got it. Readers of both sexes are invited to submit their reactions and opinions in letters to the editor.

* Overall satisfaction. Many panelists find the field rewarding, but few say it's perfect. Long hours, little recognition and respect, and the risk of contracting a serious illness are among the grievances cited.

What attracts women to the field? An overwhelming majority (82%) said that a natural orientation toward science had influenced their decision to become lab workers. More than half (56%) attested to a desire to work in a health profession, while 35% had looked forward to the job opportunities available to laboratorians and 31% said they had wanted to serve others. Relatively few (14%) joined the ranks for high pay. Having flexible hours was the goal of 7%. (Multiple responses were accepted.)

Panelists' career longevity is high; 63% have worked in the profession for 16 years or more. Do they still like it? For the most part, yes. Asked "Currently, how satisfied are you with your career as a laboratorian?," more than three-quarters (78%) said they are "satisfied"; only 9% are "extremely satisfied." On the bright side, a mere 4% of respondents said they are "not at all satisfied" with their careers, while 19% are "slightly satisfied."

What do women like most about their jobs? In answering this openended question, nearly one-third (31%) of respondents said they find their careers challenging and stimulating. Almost as many (28%) enjoy contributing to the well-being of patients. One-fifth (20%) like performing a variety of tasks, and 18% are pleased to be involved with science, medicine, and new technologies. Other sources of panelists' satisfaction include job security, working with new instrumentation, and using the skills in which they were trained.

Questioned on what they liked least about their jobs (Figure I), 31% of respondents said they feel unappreciated and unrecognized. Some deplore being viewed as robots who merely draw blood and push buttons. Others say they are underpaid and forced to work under high stress. That's due largely to "the personnel shortage and management's failure to recognize the realities of the workplace," says a section supervisor in a New Jersey VA hospital.

* Resolving the shortage. Asked whether they thought the personnel shortage could be eased if lab managers tried harder to consider the needs of working women, 56% said yes. Remedying understaffing woes would relieve stress in the workplace considerably, thus providing further incentive for women to stay in the field, some say. Panelists' efforts to reconcile home life and job responsibilities are discussed in Part II of this article, which follows in this issue.

Disenchantment leading to attrition is a vital issue. Nearly one-third (30%) of those surveyed aren't sure they will remain lab workers at all (Figure II). An additional 12% say they intend to leave. That means 42% of respondents are thinking about turning their backs on lab careers--an alarming statistic, considering the availability of qualified staff is at a dangerously low ebb. Women who have worked in the lab for less than 16 years were more likely to say they intend to leave (15%) than those who have been in the field longer (10%).

In commenting on the survey findings, Linda A. Charles, Ph.D., MT(ASCP), said that although addressing women's issues is important, most women leave the field not for lack of flextime, maternity benefits, or similar issues, but for other reasons. "Improved salaries and more opportunities for upward mobility are necessary to retain our female professionals," points out Charles, who is assistant director of the clinical coagulation laboratory at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "Many women aren't eager to spend the next 20 years at the bench."

* Equal footing? Currently women hold more supervisory positions, obtain higher salaries, and are better respected than ever. Still, slippery rungs on the corporate ladder continue to impede ascent to upper management for some. Even those attempting the first steps may find it hard to progress.

Have respondents ever felt discriminated against in their careers for being women? Yes (49%) and no (51%). A supervisor in California calls the clinical lab one of the few work environments where women are treated well. "The only problems I see are the occasional male pathologists who feel uncomfortable dealing with a woman," she adds.

Most lab professionals today are judged by their qualifications, not by their gender, observes Rebecca L. Johnson, M.D., chief of anatomic pathology and director of the analytical cytomertry laboratory at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, Mass. In the past, Johnson says, a man probably had a better chance than a woman vying for the same position because of the perception that men had "careers" and women had "jobs." The situation has improved, however, so that "women now have equal opportunities," approves Dr. Johnson, who calls this "a healthy change, since female managers and supervisors tend to be more nurturing and communicative" than men.

The manager of a Kentucky independent lab feels that men are "given a bad deal by females who take women's liberation too far. Women who work hard and have ability receive equality."

* Not so. A substantial number (49%) of women beg to differ, such as a pathology supervisor in Michigan who believes that women are simply not recognized as men are. "So-called 'jokes' are made to indicate inadequacies," she states, "and favoritism is widespread." A microbiology supervisor from Connecticut says, "When physicians come into the laboratory with a question or to get an opinion, they go immediately to a man, even though the women have seniority." A number of other panelists described, in detail, specific incidents and experiences--far too many to present here--that reflect obvious discriminatory treatment.

According to the night supervisor at a Mississippi hospital, a male lab director once told her bluntly that the lab would be better off when all employees were men. She eventually resigned, she says, when the misogynistic atmosphere began to affect her health. Men's "pervasive condescending attitude is like a dripping faucet," notes another respondent, "constantly there and wearing away at your inner core."

Sexual discrimination often takes the form of innuendos that can be difficult to interpret and document, remarks Bonnie B. Hendrix, M.B.A., MT(ASCP). "Unless management takes a firm, open stand against all forms of sexual discrimination, these actions will erode the morale of the entire staff," adds Hendrix, laboratory director at Humana Hospital Northside in St. Petersburg, Fla. Among the respondents who shared anecdotes of their experiences with discriminatory treatment, most cited condescension, inadequate raises, are receiving little help from male supervisors for personal or professional advancement (Figure III).

* Arduous climb. MLO's survey asked respondents to what extent they agree or disagree with the adage that women must work harder than men to prove themselves. Regarding the application of that statement to nonmanagement lab staff, 10% of panelists "strongly agree," 25% "agree," and over half (51%) "disagree." A small group (14%) "strongly disagree," and the same amount (14%) are unsure.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents, however, concur that women in management positions must work harder than men to reach the same goals: 31% "strongly agree" and 32% "agree." About one in four (27%) disagree, 9% strongly disagree, and 11% are unsure. Respondents working for independent or group practice labs were more apt than those employed in hospitals to say they strongly agree that women in management positions must work harder than men (38% versus 28%, respectively).

A New Hampshire lab manager explains that although she has enjoyed opportunities to advance, the road has been rocky. "Our male medical director treats women as second-class people," she asserts. "I constantly have to prove myself to him, even though I have increased business to several outside entities over the years. Thank goodness he doesn't pay my salary."

* Glass ceiling. A slight majority (51%) of respondents believe men and women in the lab receive the same opportunities for promotion and are encouraged equally to seek advancement. Still, 43% indicate that the "glass ceiling"--a term coined to describe gender biases in the business world that prevent women from reaching a high level of management--is alive and well.

According to many panelists, a man generally wins out over a woman for a promotion even if she is more capable, experienced, and educated. "I was told once that I was the best person to be promoted to lab manager," recalls a chief technologist in Mississippi, "but that the pathologist would never have a woman in that slot, so I shouldn't bother to apply." A technologist in the Midwest explains that in her lab, promotions to supervisory positions are reserved exclusively for men--that is, unless no men are available.

An education coordinator at a California hospital writes, "Historically in our lab, supervisors have always been men. In the last five to 10 years, women have been promoted, but only ones without the responsibility of a family." Along similar lines, a section supervisor in Illinois says, "We're currently undergoing management reorganization. The pressure is on to move the historically female supervisors 'down the career ladder' and place all males at the top. None are medical technologists."

While legitimate cases of discrimination do occur, notes Linda Charles, some women cry bias the minute a man is chosen over a woman, even when the man is more qualified. "Women stand a much better chance of getting what they want if they present their case with a positive attitude" than by accusing others of unfair treatment, she believes.

A medical technologist working in a Kansas hospital calls her institution "notorious for its discrimination. Years ago, women were rarely hired or promoted because management feared they'd get pregnant and stay home or leave to follow their husbands' job transfers," she reports. "Things are changing, but it's a slow process."

A technologist in Texas feels that because most women are the primary caregivers to their children, they are viewed by administrators as less reliable and less able to dedicate all their time to their jobs. They therefore miss out on wonderful opportunities, she observes. But motherhood shouldn't be viewed as a stumbling block, argues a Massachusetts lab manager. Once a woman has set the record straight about her interest in developing a career, she insists, advancement should not be a problem.

Changes are taking place thanks to today's assertive woman who defends her technical and social skills, proclaims Linda Mckenna, MT(ASCP), director of customer services at Sacramento (Calif.) Medical Foundation. "In the past, male managers thought twice before hiring or promoting women with small children, believing these employees would bring not only their own problems into the laboratory but also their children's," she says. While some male managers may still feel this way, most no longer act upon their feelings, Mckenna points out.

Concerns about discrimination needn't hold back any woman from pursuing her goals, she adds. "The key is to take responsibility for your life and to sell yourself aggressively. Walk up to your boss and say, "This is what I want to do and I can do it well.'" Although it's still basically a man's world, says McKenna, assertive women can excel in it.

"Unfortunately, men are still considered superior to women in our society, and often stand a better chance of moving ahead," observes Mary Clark Waller, Ph.D., HT(ASCP), manager of anatomic pathology at HCA Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Kan. To advance, "women must have good negotiating skills and a proven track record of high performance."

"In the '50s, I accepted the male superiority myth," writes a longtime administrative technologist from New England. "I was fortunate to work in a hospital that held the lab in high esteem. At the same time I got to know many physicians socially. I discovered they were people. When I returned to work after my children were older. I continued to interact with the medical staff as peers, not higher-ups. For me, it worked. We had mutual respect; they didn't walk all over me. This cannot happen unless the woman is quietly assertive."

* Opportunities for growth. One in four of the women surveyed believe men are given more chances to work on special projects (26%), attend various professional meetings (25%), and assume long-range planning responsibilities (25%). (Multiple responses were accepted.) Smaller proportions of respondents say male laboratorians are offered more occasions to attend offsite management classes and inservice meetings, receive technical training, and join interdepartmental committees. Almost half (49%) of respondents, however, said they think women receive as many such chances to learn as men.

A laboratorian at a group practice lab in Alaska states that some male managers feel threatened by knowledgeable females. Such men are afraid to boost women professionally for fear of looking bad, she says, because they "haven't learned to stop competing" with women who could "enhance the environment" of the workplace.

Some men never will, respondents say. A quality assurance manager in an independent lab in the Midwest explains that managers at her institution "are mostly men between the ages of 40 to 60 who moved into their positions before women's rights came to light." Until the "old-boy generation" retires, she concludes, women will have little chance for advancement.

Yet many men deserve credit, counters Rebecca Johnson, for "retraining themselves to ignore traditional biases about women and treat us as equal partners." She praises male colleagues' efforts to rethink the "basic concepts and rules" that have long held sway.

* Progress. In panelists' laboratories, women hold 72% of all positions above technologist, on average. Today's situation is no different from that of five years ago, say 64%. Half (50%) say the status quo hasn't changed much in a decade.

"When I first started working," says an assistant lab manager who has worked in the field for more than 20 years, "men in our lab were given more opportunities to advance than women. Now advancement is based on education and seniority, not on gender." Nevertheless, in some labs, the old guard remains. "It is common knowledge that our lab manager will retire in two or three years," writes a medical technologist in Montana. "It is assumed that his position will be filled by the next-senior male tech, regardless of qualifications."

The average respondent has been promoted at least twice during her clinical lab career; 18% have been promoted three times. In 53% of panelists' laboratories, the highest ranking non-physician administrator, most likely the laboratory manager, is a woman.

Health care consultant Annamarie Barros, M.A., CLS(NCA) CLDir, of Woodland, Calif., notes that until recently, female laboratorians in supervisory positions allowed their male colleagues to dominate them, thus setting a bad example for their female coworkers. "Today's female managers are strong role models," she says. "Their assertiveness filters down to technologists, inspiring them to set high standards for themselves."

A chief technologist in Tennessee says that although there was once a great deal of bias toward promoting males before females in her part of the country, "I've seen a marked lessening of this over my 30-year career, and expect continued improvement."

"I feel the working environment is much better than 20 years ago," agrees a lab manager working in an independent laboratory in New York. Men who come to the United States from countries where women are treated as second-class citizens, however, "have a harder time supervising women in a fair fashion," she observes.

Attitudinal problems may be changing as more women, and more enlightened men, attend medical school. "Some pathologists still have paternal feelings toward lab employees, the majority of whom are women," says a Missouri lab director. "They have difficulty seeing a female in any management position or understanding a peer business relationship with a woman. Fortunately, young pathologists entering the field are much more open-minded."

Nevertheless, a number of women remain pessimistic about the profession, such as a chief technologist from an Eastern state who believes that "there is no career potential in medical technology. It is a dead-end career for any woman."

* Fuel to the fire. Women sometimes stifle other women's chances for upward mobility, respondents charge. Female managers may perpetuate discrimination, for example, through blatant favoritism of male workers. "My worst boss was a woman," recalls a chief technologist from Indiana. "If you weren't 'one of the guys,' you didn't exist. Women were never given any credit for their ideas."

"Women can be their own worst enemies," agrees Bonnie Hendrix. "Due to feelings of jealousy, fear, competition, or personal prejudices, successful career women often see younger, aspiring females as threats, and therefore refuse to mentor them."

One technologist feels that some women reinforce biases through unprofessional behavior. "They approach their work as a job, not a profession," she says, "from their attitudes about coffee breaks (they never miss one) to doing needlework in the cafeteria, which drives me crazy. How do they ever expect to be taken seriously?"

Most disconcerting, notes a California section supervisor of more than two decades' experience, is that "once women are put into positions of influence, many cop out by becoming 'yes women' to their male managers and don't speak their minds"--a function, she believes, of "our conditioning to be passive."

* Salary equity. Respondents' annual salaries average $39,100; 30% earn more than $40,000. Still, 54% believe they are not fairly compensated for the work they perform. Two out of five (41%) feel their salaries are fair. A small percentage (5%) are unsure.

A great many respondents restate the commonly held belief that clinical laboratory science has long remained a career primarily for women partly because its low salaries historically failed to attract or retain men. "Women have allowed themselves to be professionally and financially abused," concludes a section supervisor from Washington State.

That situation is far from unique to laboratories, observes management consultant Annamarie Barros. "Men are innately aggressive and therefore more willing to fight for raises and to leave a profession when they don't get what they want," she says. "Women are uncomfortable doing battle."

Comments from a fair number of respondents suggest that they feel salaries would be substantially higher if more men were employed in the clinical lab. "No way would men have put up with our pay scale over the history of the profession," says an Alabama section supervisor. According to MLO "Viewpoint" columnist James M. Maratea, M.A., however, one reason laboratory salaries remain so low is a lack of professional unity. Most laboratorians have "never put higher wages at the forefront of their career goals," says Maratea, who is administrator of clinical and anatomic pathology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia.

Respondents are closely divided on whether their salaries are on a par with men's. Nearly half (47%) feel they are paid equally; 41% do not. Women working in hospital labs are far more likely to consider men's and women's pay equitable (54%) than are those employed by independent and group practice labs (24%).

A microbiology supervisor from Utah makes a statement echoed by many other respondents: "Administrators automatically assume that men are the main breadwinners in the family." This used to be a problem, says Mary Clark Waller, but no longer. It has become increasingly clear to administrators, she explains, that laboratories employ almost as many divorced women as men supporting families.

Not everywhere. "Men are paid more because 'they have families to support,'" says the lab manager of a group practice lab in Missouri. A longtime laboratorian who manages four small independent labs in the South--and who calls her career "very satisfying, very rewarding, and the only job I have ever wanted"--affirms this: "I have been a single parent for 12 years. I know that men in my same position are paid more money because they are 'head of household,'" she says wryly.

A technologist from Minnesota observes a change in salary scales since she began working in the 1950s. "When I first started in medical technology," she says, "men were paid more than women, even if you had the same education and years of experience." That is no longer true, she believes. Another respondent tells a different story. "In our area and in surrounding rural areas," notes a lab supervisor in a physician's office lab in Virginia, "many women hold high positions in labs. It is well known, however, that their salaries are much lower than those of their male counterparts." Similarly, the lab manager at a rural lowa hospital writes, "My salary is at least 10% less than those of my male counterparts around the state."

Salary inequity isn't exclusively an issue of sexism. Panelists complain that the pay for nurses with two-year degrees often surpasses that of technologists with baccalaureate and master's degrees. "Even though we are more educated than many nurses," says a technologist from Texas, "we are treated as if we walked in off the street. The disparity between salaries is disgraceful."

"Arguing that more education deserves more pay just doesn't fly," says Marian J. Cavagnaro, M.S., MT(ASCP)DLM, chief technologist in hematology at Memorial Hospital, Hollywood, Fla. "Lab workers need to compare their tasks with those of nurses. Laboratorians with high accountability, who are heavily involved in such things as sophisticated interpretation, monitoring instrumentation, and quality control, should bring their cases to administration," she advises. "Behind-the-scenes workers won't get anywhere unless they let it be known that they do more than push buttons."

* Strength in numbers? The majority of respondents concede that being female has its advantages. Although two out of five (40%) say women have no edge over men, others thank a largely female profession for providing an environment that fosters camaraderie. Satisfaction in the lab is not guaranteed by the predominance of women, warns Marian Cavagnaro: "In fact, some would argue that females don't work well as a group. Many women are not as supportive of other women's career goals and successes as they should be."

Linda Charles adds, "Put five women together in a room to negotiate, and you'll see people who have difficulty separating emotions from facts," she says. "It stems from our upbringing, which is fortunately improving with each generation." Cavagnaro summarizes, "Career satisfaction depends on monetary goals, social needs, and basic personality--not on being in the majority."

Respondents say that female laboratorians, particularly those in nonsupervisory roles, generally are happier in their jobs than men in similar jobs. Frequently men use the lab as a steppingstone to higher positions, according to some panelists. Others say men are not content to remain at the bench for long--particularly those with female supervisors.

That may have been true 20 years ago, says James Maratea, but no longer. "Back then, many men felt frustrated," he notes. "They looked beyond the lab to medical school or graduate school." Salaries for all lab workers have improved, he says, affording men more chances to stay in their lab careers and support their families.

Do respondents see any other advantages in being a woman? Female laboratorians network to improve work situations, explains Mary Clark Waller: "A lot of female bonding takes place in the lab." A section supervisor from Illinois points out that being in the majority affords women "a greater opportunity to put extra pressure on administrators to maintain a balanced managerial staff" with equal numbers of men and women.

No clear consensus emerges across the nation. Equal Employment Opportunity laws notwithstanding, many factors depend on circumstances and tradition at each individual lab: how easily and how far women can advance professionally, whether their pay is on a par with men's, if dedication and talent will enable them to attain the level of lab management they wish. Often the circumstances on which these factors depend reflect the attitudes of men in power. If awareness is the first step toward change, responses to this survey suggest that the first step has been taken.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; The Status of Women in the Laboratory, part 1
Author:Trotto, Nancy E.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jun 1, 1992
Previous Article:Lab discounts to physicians under fire.
Next Article:Parenthood, harassment, and other workplace distractions.

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