Hospice Care – The Gender Gap an Unspoken Pink Elephant

While I doing my research for my new book When Death Speaks, I reviewed the more than 60 hospice societies in British Columbia 45 of which have active web sites. Many of the web site listed their staff teams and their board members.  Though I was focused on other issues while reading through these sites it did come to my attention that women represent a large portion of staff and board teams.

In my recent conversations with members of the hospice field I noticed the same phenomena, women everywhere and very few men to be seen.  So I jumped right back on to the web sites I had visited earlier to gather some statistics.  Here is what I discovered based on the information available online about hospices in British Columbia;


Staff Percentages                         Female               94%

                                                               Male                       6%


Board Percentages                    Female                60%

                                                              Male                     40%           


Total board and staff               Female                  74%

                                                              Male                       26%

(Volunteer numbers were not available for review)

Though I was not surprised to find women out numbering men, the magnitude of the difference especially amongst staff teams was shocking to me.  As I went back over recent events the lights started to go on.  “Of course.”

  • Hospice training 3 guys and16 gals in my hospice training.
  • Hospice speakers and trainers for my volunteer training were all women.
  • Eight job applications, 2 short lists and no job offers – each position filled by a woman. (Not a complaint, simply a notice.)
  • All executive director positions in British Columbia but one were held by women.

Everywhere I looked I noticed this huge gender gap.  Now, to a degree this gender gap does make some sense.  Here is age of death statistics that shed some light on the gender topic:


Year                                 Men                         Women

1920                                    59                                    61

1950                                    66                                    71

1980                                    72                                    79

2000                                    77                                    82

2013                                    80                                    84


Typically women have filled positions that require empathy, care, and compassion – nurses, teachers, and care-aides those types of jobs requiring skills seen as more feminine.  And yes, women do out live men generally speaking, so it makes some sense that they would out number men volunteers and board members.  Oddly some of hospices better know figures are men, Ram Das, Stephen Levine, and Alan Wolfelt, go figure.

But even after reviewing the statistics and the helping industry tendencies the questions still began to come up:

  • Is there a gender bias in the hospice industry conscious or unconscious?  If yes how do we deal with it?
  • Are men seen by hospice agencies as somehow lacking or not appropriate? If yes what can be done to correct this misunderstanding?
  • Is the hospice training and hospice service skewed by this gender imbalance?  If yes, how could the training be changed to reflect gender specific needs?
  • Do grieving men and boys get hospice services delivered in a way they can receive it?  If not how could services be adjusted?
  • Can men contribute some new approaches to death and dying which women may not have seen?  If so what would those contributions be?
  • How significant are the differences between male and female grief?
  • What could hospice service delivery look like if there was more gender balance on staff and volunteer teams?

I certainly don’t have all the answers right here and now.  However, I think it is these types of questions that will lead to the discussions we must have if we are to continue to improve the services our valuable hospice organizations provide as we approach the wave of death the baby boomer generation is bringing our way. Mats Zuccarello Womens Jersey

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