Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to think hard about the issue of men in the field of Speech-Language Pathology. My biggest hurdle has always been whether or not this is, in fact, an “issue” at all. It may well be an observable and measurable phenomenon but that doesn’t necessarily qualify as an “issue.” By that, I mean does it really matter that the balance of men to women in the field is significantly skewed?
At the 2015 ASHA Convention in Denver, I attended a session entitled “SLTs in Europe – ‘United in Diversity’ – the Challenge of Promoting the Profession” presented by Michele Kaufmann-Meyer and Baiba Trinite  of the Comité Permanent de Liaison des Orthophonistes-Logopèdes de l’UE or CPLOL. At the beginning of the session, they brought up a slide highlighting the following three points:
- Diversity is challenging
- Diversity is welcome
- Diversity makes us grow
But the definition of “diversity” was one that focused on cultural, educational, linguistic, and ethnic differences and not gender. At the end of the presentation, I pointed out that when I qualified as a Speech and Language Therapist in the UK back in 1983, the data suggested that about 2% of the professions was male, and that 32 years later, the figures say that at best it’s close to 5%, which is as close to “no change” as makes no difference. So I asked the question that if “diversity” is challenging, welcome, and makes us grow, what was CPLOL actively doing to encourage gender diversity, the answer of “nothing” was oddly unsurprising. If it’s not seen as an “issue,” or so low on the “issue” totem pole that no-one cares, then why would we expect any change?
In fairness to CPLOL, they have two working groups on Education and Clinical Practice that are tasked with the following list of topics:
All of these are virtuous and worthy, and given that CPLOL is funded by subscriptions from its member organization, and any donations, the organization is not exactly awash with money, so one can understand the need to create priorities. Gender imbalance is clearly not a priority, although I should in all fairness add that Michèle gave me her business card and an open invitation to engage in some dialog, so that proverbial ball is now in my court.
Everyone talks about the weather…
To paraphrase a quote attributed to Mark Twain, “Everyone talks about men in the profession but nobody does anything about it.” That may be a little unfair because there have been sporadic events to try to increase the number of guys becoming SLP/SLTs but if the outcome over 30 years has been at best a 3% increase, whatever has been done has been minimally effective. This isn’t a criticism of individuals or organizations but a simple statement of an observable fact. My guess is that there’s been a bigger percentage increase of male strippers in the past 30 years – another field of endeavor that’s noticeably female.
Social media has offered opportunities for men to promote themselves via such things as the #speechguys hashtag and @speechguys Twitter handle, or the “League of Extraordinary Speech Gentlemen” on Facebook but these are all marked by low numbers. @speechguys currently has 328 followers and the “League” – admittedly a closed group – has 236. Compared with @Sockamillion the cat, a feline with 1.2 million followers, there’s a way to go before men in Speech Pathology make a splash on the internet.
So what’s to be done? Anything? Nothing?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a polemic as “a strong verbal or written attack on a person, opinion,” which is what this article is about to become. Let’s assume that there IS a need to have more men in the profession, and that there ARE benefits to this. If that’s the case, then I’m no longer interested in re-hashing the numbers; I’m not interested in interminable and repetitive discussion about why men don’t become SLPs; and I don’t want special treatment for men just because they are men. What I want is for some commitment from the Profession as a whole to do something that has the following THREE critical components:
- A written Plan of Action with measurable results. There’s a time for “raising awareness” and a time for “making a change” and after 30 years I suggest that awareness raising has had its chance. What we need is a list of goals that are defined in ways that can be measured so we can determine success or failure. Saying “we want more men in the profession” is not a goal; it’s an aspiration. Saying “we want to see the global proportion of males in the profession to be 7% by 2018, based on figures collected by at least six national SLP organizations all using the same metrics” is a goal . And on December 31st, 2018, we can actually see whether we’ve achieved it or failed.
- Resources. Informal clusters of men trying to co-ordinate “stuff” on the internet in their spare time are not “resources.” They are simply informal clusters of men. Like all of us, they have clients to see, families to care for, homes to maintain, and the usual list of “things to do” that get in the way of fighting for a cause. Resources are time, people, and money – and the latter is the key. Unless a fixed amount of money is allocated to a project, there’s no way to budget for the time and people. The international professional organizations already allocate money to other projects and there’s no reason why “getting more men into the profession” cannot be one of those.
- Rebel with a Cause. Over the past ten years of so, the term “champion” has become part of the business vernacular to describe a person who is identified as the prime mover of a project, cause, or product. If we are to have our own “Rebel with a Cause,” this champion has to have a budget, the power to hire and fire, and a position within the administrative structure of a national organization. This person needs to be passionate, articulate, engaging, and unfazed by the prospect of being in the limelight. And he needs to be comfortable with being a role model for other men.
Unless the Profession can commit to these three elements, I’m predicting that in another 30 years, just before I reach my 90th birthday, we’ll still be looking at the numbers and wondering why we’re only up to 7% of SLPs being men.
For what it’s worth, I am not that Rebel. I’m too old, too short, and have all the “media appeal” of Jabba the Hutt without his make-up. I want to see a media-savvy champion who can be in Washington DC in the morning and attending a meeting in San Diego that same evening. I want to see someone who can deliver a Skype conference at 8:00 AM Eastern Standard Time and do it again at 9:00 AM Australian Eastern Standard Time. I want to see someone who can churn out press releases and articles on why men should be SLPs. In short, someone who treats this as a job and not a spare-time exercise.
It’s time to “put up or shut up.” I’m up for taking part but this isn’t a one-man show. It’s not even a 328 men show. It’s a challenge to the profession as a whole to find a Rebel with a Cause as opposed to our current Cause without a Rebel.
In a discussion I cited this blog post as a source that suggests that in the area of gender balance, male strippers are more represented in the field of disrobing than male SLPs are in Speech Pathology. When I checked, to my horror I noticed I didn’t refer to any source to support that claim. Mea culpa. So I asked Dr. Google and went to payscale.com, a site that provides information about jobs, and “Stripper/Exotic Dancer” is listed. It includes the statistic that of all the respondents to a survey, 16% identified as male – way higher than that of SLPs.
I also discovered that if you want to make money, your best chance is to find a job in Las Vegas, Miami, or New York, and if you want to really have a sucky time, Atlanta isn’t the place to be. And if you are really lucky, 18% get Medical benefits, 14% get Dental, and 13% get Vision.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2010, Highlights and Trends: ASHA Counts for Year End 2010 (available at: http://www.asha.org uploadedFiles/2010-Member-Counts.pdf).
Litosseliti, L., & Leadbeater, C. (2013). Speech and language therapy/pathology: perspectives on a gendered profession. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 48(1), 90-101
McKinson, F. (2007). Why do men become speech and language therapists? RCSLT Bulletin, April, 12–14.
Mosheim, J. (2005). Men in Speech-Language Pathology. Advance for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologist, 15 (30), 6. Available online from http://speech-language-pathology-audiology.advanceweb.com/Article/Men-in-Speech-Language-Pathology.aspx
Rowden-Racette, K. (2013). Where the Boys Aren’t. ASHA Leader, August 2013, 18, 46-51. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.18082013.46. Available online at http://leader.pubs.asha.org/article.aspx?articleid=1785887&resultClick=3
Sheridan, J., 1999, A career in speech and language therapy: for white women only? RCSLT Bulletin, February, 9.
Speech Pathology Australia, 2012, Real Men Do Speech Pathology
(available at: http://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au/
 Michèle Kaufmann-Meyer is the current President of CPLOL and has been representing Switzerland since 2004. She has also been working as a general secretary of the French-speaking Swiss organization for 12 years. Baiba Trinite is Assistant Professor in the Department of Education and Social Work at Liepaja University and President of Speech Therapists’ Association of Latvia.
 I’m sure each of the international organizations has ways of measuring the male/female ratio of their membership already in place. What I don’t know is whether they are all using similar methodologies and how reliable the metrics are. Clearly one of the first tasks to be included in the Plan of Action is to reviewing current measurement systems and make sure they are as accurate as possible.
I really got a kick out of your photo heading…you nailed it!
I’m a male SLP (and proud of it…) for a county in the state of Maryland. I’m pushing twenty six years and considering retirement.
A couple of years ago, a colleague (another male SLP, one of four of 100), we were approached about taking part in the recruiting process. Without hesitation, we stated ‘we were on board’ for moving forward. Even came up with a plan to visit high school seniors and / or college freshman to highlight the positives and challenges of our profession. It was NEVER brought to our attention again….
My guess is those in those positions did not want us involved or were fearful of losing said positions. Bottom line, from an observation, the process of discrimination is ‘lip service’….
Thanks for sharing, Rick. I don’t think there’s any “anti-men” sentiment in the profession, and I believe that there is actually a lot of support for improving the figures. What we don’t have is a really, really solid plan with people and cash behind it. If I’m wrong and there ARE plans in place, or initiatives that have been taken that I missed, then I’d love to hear about it. And if these plans and initiatives have failed, let’s work out why and then come up with a new plan on what we should do and how we can go about achieving measurable success.
I have given a lot of thought to this topic, as well. Among other things, people of different genders communicate differently, and for no other reason, males need to have a presence in the field. Who are the gatekeepers in our field? The university programs. They are the ones who recruit and admit students. If they don’t get it (and many of them don’t!), there will never be change. No degree, no license. Simple as that!
It would be helpful if someone could supply figures on how many men actually apply to SLP programs. If 50% of applicants are male but only 5% of those accepted, then there’s something odd going on. But if only 5% of applicants are men, then those “gatekeepers” are actually letting in what is being reflected in the employment statistics. And if the percentage of men who start an SLP course is significantly less than those who finish, that’s another factor we need to consider. I’m thinking that there’s no “gatekeeping” going on that discriminates against men but that so few men ever apply to become SLPs. The figures are probably already out there but (a) I can’t remember what color socks I put on this morning let alone the contents of all the articles I’ve read over the past year, and (b) I’m hoping some readers will contribute some new and interesting data. Thanks for the input, Everett!
I just read this post– very apt title! I am quite invested in this issue, since I am male and aspiring to be an SLP. SLP as a profession was never in my radar until recently when I was evaluating possible careers to switch to. I only knew of SLPs because my wife works with several. To get a snapshot of why the gender imbalance even at the SLP student level, it would be best to ask the question, “Why not Speech Pathology?” to my 20-year-old-college-student-self. And my answer would be:
1) What is Speech Pathology? Never heard of it. I didn’t even know it was a career option as I have never seen or heard of an SLP.
2) I would have to go to graduate school? More college? Ugh. I just want to be done with college and get a decent paying job.
3) Help people with their communication? Uh, I’m still figuring out how to talk to girls without getting flustered. I don’t have the conviction, confidence, and commitment required to complete the studies to be an SLP.
I can’t speak for everyone else, but to the current me, being an SLP is a calling. It requires what I touched upon in #3: conviction– which I developed as I matured. It’s possible that young people can have this conviction, as I’ve seen it in the few male undergrads I’ve attended classes with. But very few have this kind of conviction because they’re young and still trying to figure themselves out (like the young college version of myself).
To focus the cause, I think the first target should be people who are called to be an SLP but don’t know it yet. We should seek out the people who are exploring career change options and provide extensive awareness of the SLP career to them. I think there are plenty of males out there who are not happy with their jobs, and are perhaps called to be SLPs. But they don’t know it yet, simply because they haven’t heard of the profession. Maybe this means having a presence in career fairs. Perhaps it also means to make it a more appealing option by providing provisions and scholarships for those who are changing careers.
Anyhow, that is my two cents. I don’t foresee myself being that rebel, but I do see myself getting involved in the movement of the cause!
Thanks for your “two cents,” Erwin, although I think it’s worth more like a dollar 😉 The notion of Speech Pathology being a “calling” is intriguing and certainly worth investigating. It makes it sound a little like the Priesthood but most of the guys I know in the profession are some way from being the sort to take the Vows! I think you’re spot on with the observation that whatever we may think from within the field, Speech Pathology is not something about which folks are generally aware. Promotion at Career Fairs would be a good “grass roots” approach but that would benefit from some sort of coordination from a full-time “Rebel” in order to maximize the effect. Sure, I, Russell, could arrange to be at a local event but what would I say/do/promote that could be measured for effectiveness? How would I know that my being at an event on Feb 15, 2016 resulted in 5 guys qualifying in 2018/19? For all the potential micro-opportunities we as individuals have to effect change, I believe having a macro-plan coordinated at the highest level (National organizations?) would provide better results.
I hope other folks following this blog take the time to read your comments and offer their own suggestions 😉
I agree that there should be a macro-plan to coordinate the ideas and opportunities to effect change. Maybe it starts with raising awareness that reaching out to more males is a worthwhile pursuit– that we’re looking to enrich our field rather than just changing the numbers. If it is more of a priority, perhaps the “rebel(s)” would be willing to stand up, and the beginnings of a macro-plan are sowed. I’m just thinking out loud. This really should be an ongoing conversation that I wish more people joined in on.
Also, I’ve been thinking about the conviction needed to want to pursue being an SLP. Conviction is more of a necessity for me because I needed it to move forward in changing careers, I need it to endure the competitiveness of the field (applying to grad schools), and I need it to weather the cost of education (postbac + graduate school = $$$$$$$$$$). Without a strong enough conviction, I would’ve found something else to pursue already.
Conviction is good but let me ask a question: would you choose a higher paid job that you didn’t really think you’d like over a lower paid job that you think you’d enjoy? Obviously potential pay packets is a factor in job choice but it that a primary or a secondary or a tertiary factor? My son-in-law earns more than me working on the railways fixing track but I can’t imagine switching my career just to earn more.
I am in my second year of an AuD program, and I am the only male in my class. I made friends with the only male in the MS-SLP class. (I’m sending him the great picture above.) He is very charismatic, and I hope he becomes that hero you are looking for. I am doing a lot worse than he is–I am rarely able to navigate the female-dominated social rituals without getting myself into trouble. And I am not exaggerating: a judicial action was levied against me for a couple careless words–much less careless than many I have heard my female classmates use–but it has been left pending for many months, perhaps as some sort of threat. I should mention my grades are unimpeachable.
I think there IS sexism currently at play in the speech and hearing professions which favors females. This is not to say that it’s anyone’s fault, or that it isn’t only fair, given that females have borne the brunt of sexism in the workforce for so long. I just don’t think anyone is disposed to consider it a priority, and maybe that’s OK.
There is a growing gender imbalance in higher education in general favoring females, so I can only imagine the trend will get “worse.” I could make some uninformed gender generalizations about women’s societally-conditioned “helping” identity, but perhaps it’s sufficient to point out that there tend to be more males studying linguistics than communications sciences and disorders. Our SLP program requires a Bachelor’s in CSD as a prerequisite, and I imagine that’s the same elsewhere. I recently gave a lecture on speech acoustics for the SLP first years, and I can’t imagine that someone with a linguistics degree would be less equipped than they were. Our AuD program has much less stringent prerequisites, and I find the students who studied something other than CSD–biology, pre-med, music–tend to perform better. Indeed, my male SLP friend got a second bachelor’s to qualify for this program. I can’t imagine that’s something many people want to do. If you want more male SLPs, I recommend cracking open the narrow pipeline. (And don’t waste too much time arguing about the metrics you will use for the project no one wants to do–lay some brick and make it real for people.)