Why the Scarcity of Male SLPs—and What Can Be Done

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One could easily see the lack of males in our profession by walking into any elementary school, or even attending an ASHA conference. It’s no secret that males are a rarity in speech-language pathology, but the topic of conversation has now shifted to what we can do about this trend. The fact that I was a minority in our field was apparent to me immediately after attending my first articulation disorders course.

Unfortunately, efforts to attract more males to our profession have been generally unsuccessful. Not only that, but according to data presented in the article on this topic by Kellie Rowden-Racette in the August ASHA Leader, the number of males in our field, and related fields (for example, psychology), have actually declined.

At this time, we have to use the information gathered by ASHA about why males are not choosing speech-language pathology, and develop concrete solutions on how to address the dearth of males in this profession.

The Frederick Schnieiders Research study conducted in 1997 revealed three common reasons males were less likely to pursue speech-language pathology compared with women: concerns about adequate income, concerns about advancement, and fears of limited opportunities for growth. Perry Flynn, an ASHA board member who blogged on this topic for ASHAsphere last week, shared an additional reason in the ASHA Leader article—lack of awareness:

“Men seem to have awareness and knowledge of many other related services—physical therapy, psychology, even occupational therapy, and certainly nursing—but no inkling of what a speech-language pathologist might do,” says Flynn, also associate professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Flynn’s insight holds true for me, as I knew very little about the scope of our profession before entering my junior year of undergraduate courses. However, as illustrated in the Leader article, there are issues beyond “awareness.”

Another explanation given of why men aren’t in the profession was that men are still unfairly viewed as less nurturing than women. I agree with Michael Maykish, an SLP in an elementary school in North Carolina, when he says, “You can’t generalize the notion that men aren’t nurturing.” Maykish goes on to say, “Successful SLPs are inherently nurturing, male or female. If you aren’t, you’re not going to enjoy being an SLP and probably shouldn’t be in this career.” We, as males, have an opportunity to promote our gender by directly showing we, too, can be nurturing.

Bringing awareness of CSD opportunities to the male population before they enter college will hopefully have a multi-pronged effect. This should give some insight and knowledge about the profession to some males who previously wouldn’t have considered going into our field, and possibly spark some interest. The male students who are now interested in CSD will act as a conduit, since, as history has shown, males influence other males regarding college major.

It is important that men in our field act as ambassadors, and take time to share the benefits of being in this profession with high school juniors and seniors. Word of mouth, coming directly from the source is a powerful tool.

Earning an adequate salary is obviously a concern for everyone, but, traditionally, it’s an even bigger one for males. Given the large numbers of SLPs employed in schools, developing ways to address this financial concern from a school-based perspective may be the best way to see the biggest return of male therapists. If we want to see the median income rise, I believe it is imperative we continue our efforts to separate ourselves, males and females, from teacher-related fields through continuing education and specialization. It is dispiriting to hear that SLPs are being offered entry level pay. We are highly qualified professionals who are in high demand. Consequently, negotiating a salary above entry level should always be an option, including when working with a school district.

Adding courses to your resume or becoming specialized in a particular area will only help school-based SLPs become more marketable and should result in higher incomes, which hopefully will attract more males to the profession. Providing treatment after school hours or during the summer are other ways to supplement a school salary, making the profession more appealing to salary-driven males.

I hope some of my suggestions are valid enough to spur even a small increase in the amount of males choosing CSD, as it is a remarkable field. A large section of my response focused on the financial aspect of our profession. I must admit the financial issue was not really relevant to me when I was considering the field. I guess I always felt if you work in a “helping” profession, you make some financial sacrifices. That said, I always felt my salary was fair, and if it wasn’t, it was my responsibility to change something.

Also, I realize much of this blog has been a testosterone-fueled rant, but I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t thank all the wonderful female SLPs. When the demand of speech-language pathologists is still so high that I’m trying to convince more people to commit, regardless of gender, well, then the gender that has composed approximately 96 percent of our field for so long must be doing something right.

Kevin Maier II, MS, CCC-SLP, is an SLP in the Wyomissing Area School District in Pennsylvania.

Comments

  1. This was an interesting article to read as I have always wondered about the scarcity of males in our profession, too. Your points are valid and I will add that I believe males have traditionally been steered away (or not encouraged to participate) in child-caring roles such as babysitting. I don’t know too many young boys who are interested in babysitting, which would be a great way to determine if someone has the patience to work with and care for children. Of course, not all SLP jobs involve working with children, but we all do need some level of nurturing as Kevin suggested in order to help people, young or old. I would suggest that we all get the kit from ASHA that can be used to promote our profession during career events at our schools – this would be a great way to raise awareness in our students (and I say never too young to start – I recommend this career to all my students!) of this very rewarding calling. And that’s the way it felt to me – a calling – because I felt so strongly about helping people, especially children, and the financial aspect was only secondary.

  2. Erin Kibler says:

    I absolutely agree with your statements, “I believe it is imperative we continue our efforts to separate ourselves, males and females, from teacher-related fields through continuing education and specialization. It is dispiriting to hear that SLPs are being offered entry level pay. We are highly qualified professionals who are in high demand. ”
    I am not sure about experiences colleagues have had, but I feel as though highly qualified professionals may have been pushed aside in recent times in efforts to gain bodies with the title of Speech-Language Pathologist in order to fill openings. Sometimes I question if graduate level programs are always providing the appropriate opportunities and attention to develop qualified professionals. I have come across a few different CFYs in the past few years from different universities throughout the country who surprised me they were even master degree level graduates ready to pursue a CFY. I agree the CFY is the opportunity to gain hands on skills, etc., however, with increases to case/work load, and medical patient productivity measures, time for learning does not always fair on the side of the CFY. I often heard remarks such as, “my classes were so large, we didn’t have time to cover that information,” or, “there were so many of us, we only received the minimum for practicum hours.” I realize university CSD programs are doing what they can to meet demand (for example the OMNIE program mentioned in the recent Leader), but are we truly producing highly trained professionals? Are we beginning to head down the road of diploma mill territory in our university settings with the expectation for everything to be made right during the CFY? (No, I am not hating on the online training programs because I personally know some amazing clinicians who are a result of the online education opportunities). I realize we cannot create cookie cutter model SLPs who dedicate every waking moment to study and professional development as the diversity of our profession is the beauty even though we may sometimes come across the stale or not fully baked (think developed) cookie. While I fully embrace diversity in our profession in order to best serve those in need of our services, I question if we are doing ourselves a disservice with our current undergraduate, graduate, and CFY clinicians? Not only are we supporting and creating our future clinicians, but stewards of our profession. How can one be motivated to enter a field if one comes across someone who was not fully prepared to practice? How do we prevail upon the various employment settings to compensate us as highly qualified professionals if the highly qualified aspect is not apparent?
    Sometimes it is not always possible to become as highly qualified as one would like secondary to costs of CEU opportunities, pay freezes, reduction of or complete lack of financial support from employers for CEUs secondary to budget constraints. At least in my area, both the school and medical based SLPs are experience decreased to no financial support for continuing education. Are there ways perhaps ASHA can better support SLPs during these economic times to make all CEU opportunities (especially large conference events) more obtainable? How wonderful would it be to have live and recorded webcasts of the ASHA convention from Chicago in order to gain the same knowledge and opportunities as those who were financially able to attend instead of relying upon speechpathology.com or tests from the various SIG perspectives. I hope we do find ways to recruit everyone regardless of race, sex, gender, or religion, however, I really hope we take into consideration preparing and supporting our future generations as well as supporting those who are already here.

  3. Brian wagner says:

    I too absolutely agree with your statements in the above article. It is nice to see that there are other SLP’s that care enough to stand and cradle our profession with concrete evidence and facts. Job well done to all SLP’s.

  4. Andy Hatton says:

    As one of the many (14, to be exact) male SLPs, I would agree with many of the factors listed in this blog post as reasons why the “hairier” gender is underrepresented in our field. So underrepresented, in fact, that most of the men’s restrooms at the ASHA Convention are converted into women’s rooms, and last year, when I was utilizing a urinal, a woman came into the bathroom, saw me, and asked if she could use a stall. I sighed, and told her she could – it seemed like an emergency.

    I think it is the historical construct of who we imagine in the role of an SLP, or a nurse, or a preschool teacher, or an OT/PT, which makes a big impact regarding the perpetuation of gender imbalance in these fields. Here is an interesting link to a historical perspective of how women rose to dominate the ranks of nursing, due to the work of Florence Nightingale and Victorian-era philosophies which dictated that women were natural nurturers, and thus were essentially born to be nurses and serve in “helping” professions. Obviously speech-language pathology did not undergo the dramatic gender-shift of nursing in the 1800s, but perhaps this helped set the stage for a paradigm shift later on.

    http://beckerexhibits.wustl.edu/mowihsp/stats/men.htm

    I would also concur with Kevin, in that financial compensation wasn’t my main priority in going into the field. However, job security absolutely was a selling point for me, and is one of the big reasons why I piled up graduate school loans to get my CCCs. In these economically uncertain times, having the ability to perform such an in-demand job as being a Speech-Language Pathologist is an absolute blessing. An entry level paycheck is always better than no paycheck at all – and I think a lot of men out there would agree with this assessment.

  5. Daniel tanney says:

    I can proudly say that I have just increased the number of male SLPs, due to receiving my certification about a week ago. Consistent with the article and the comments, I was greatly outnumbered. I found that for those male who made their way into the major in college, they tended to have some personal connection with the profession. Whether that be receiving speech-therapy themselves or knowing someone who did; or something that nature. I have heard the points made in this article before, regarding males being less nurturing, and agree that it can not be generalized for all males. From one male SLP to another, I appreciate the awareness you are trying to bring.

  6. As a male in the field of SLP, I think the argument about men being less “nurturing” plays a minimal role, if at all. Otherwise, how would we explain the higher percentage (compared to SLP’s) of men in the fields of psychology/psychiatry, social work, counseling, nursing, etc.

    I think there is much to be said for the influence of history on the profession. For several decades, and even now, the face of speech pathology has been in the schools. In it’s infancy, and as we saw in The King’s Speech, it was situated in the medical and psychological fields, which typically seem to attract more men than women (the latter seeming to land in the educational field more often than medical).

    These are, of course, anecdotal generalizations and may not bear the weight of studies on employment in the U.S.

  7. I’m a senior in school and for my last year, it’s important to me that I raise awareness about the profession to men. Any ideas how I can go about this?

  8. Dean Vanderbush says:

    If a man is looking for power, high income and prestige, the field of speech therapy may not be the best choice. However, the field can be a tremendously rewarding field for men who are nurturing.

  9. I am a male Speech Language Pathologist and have been working in schools for three years now. This is my fourth year and will be my last. The main issue is lack of respect for the profession of speech language pathology, lack of respect by all stake holders in school systems for school psonnel, sub standard pay for a professionally licensed individuals, role confusion between existing school slps (traditionally female) and the few male counterparts (i.e. being treated like a teacher and female slps being ok with this), lack of administrative support in clinical decision making, and lack of any control over schedule and clinical decision making. Unfortunately men typically are unwilling to accept such power and control dynamics and respect in their work environments and I think this kind of gender role conceptualization poses the biggest problem for getting men to go into the profession and work in schools. I work PRN home health and holiday sub. for SNF and enjoy and am excited by this work, my school position does not provide this level of professional satisfaction or enjoyment. In fact the myriad school professional development meetings we have to go to are just huge annoyances with administrators droning on about the most recent educational research based on case studies of five children (basically the worst possible research to guide instruction) is going to change our map scores is just beyond idiotic and hardly tolerable.