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.