October 1, 2013 Features

"Where the Boys Aren't" Revisited

The ASHA Leader invited readers to respond to “Where the Boys Aren’t,” an article in the August 2013 issue on the disproportionately low number of men in the field of speech-language pathology.

Some readers responded on the ASHA Community. Others responded to two related posts—one by Kevin Maier and Perry Flynn on ASHAsphere. Others responded with e-mails to leader@asha.org. Here’s what they said.

Jack Ryalls, Orlando, Fla.:

A year ago I wrote a letter, “Closing the Gender Chasm” (on.asha.org/gender-chasm) to The ASHA Leader. I was very happy to see an in-depth article in the recent issue. A number of important points were raised. It is disturbing to see that not only is the gender disparity not resolving over time, it’s actually increased in the 10-year period considered. While the article identified a number of important contributing factors, it does not offer much in the way of solutions. What seems to be needed is a change of culture.

Working with award-wining young videographer Ray Valencia, we developed a video aimed at countering the lack of awareness of the profession pointed out in the article. We filmed undergraduate and graduate males in the field working across a wide variety of contexts in the field.

Find “Dudes do Speech Therapy Too” at YouTube.

Alan Kunz, speech and hearing sciences undergraduate, University of Washington:

This e-mail is in response to “Where the Boys Aren’t,” Aug 1, 2013.

A lot of the survey responses surprised me. You have a 1997 study finding men characterize CSD careers as “offering few opportunities for growth” and a 2009 study finding that only a quarter of men even know SLP exists.

How can such an impactful profession have so little renown, but among those males who do know it, a negative image?

My guess: Young males, especially those who go to college, don’t have kids and probably don’t remember going to an SLP if they ever had to. There’s no exposure to the field. I suggest that in 1997, the number of men who knew about speech-language pathology was the same, if not even less, and their answers were mostly based on gut instinct (how exactly the question was asked is really important, but we don’t know that).

The author mentions other “helping” fields in which the gender disparity is increasing. That same study shows other, similar fields in which the gap is decreasing, like nursing and teaching. In fact, several of the fields the author singles out have only dropped a few tenths of a percent, which is, of course, statistically insignificant (particularly over a decade). The only professions experiencing a significant loss in male numbers, according to her source, are psychology and occupational therapy.

This trend suggests to me that men gravitate towards “hands-on” fields, but are not averse to “helping” professions in general.

I propose that the number one concern of a male entering college is a) just finding a path and, no less important, b) finding one that pays off in the end. $70k is a really good starting pay, no matter what the author says, and there are plenty of men who are not cut out for engineering or business but who are nurturing. Perhaps most importantly, communications is consistently one of the most popular majors in the United State (with a starting pay of $30k according to CNN). So, interest in speech and hearing sciences is there, even if latent and untapped.

I might be naïve, but the field itself is not the issue. It’s a matter of branding.

How do we get awareness of the field out there to men?

We target communications, linguistics, English, and education departments and fraternities with the following information: pay, fields (not just pediatrics but geriatrics, research), growth projections, placement opportunities and the potential for career growth.

We target engineering and neuroscience departments, emphasizing the fact that speech-language pathology and audiology are essentially “applied neuroscience” fields, with essentially the same information above.

Most importantly, we target young, incoming freshmen males who are shopping around. They offer the most potential for results.

Thanks for indulging my thoughts.

Everett Leiter, MA, CCC-SLP, New York:

Kellie Rowden-Racette’s article “Where the Boys Aren’t” was such a welcome, intelligent discussion of the gender issue in our profession.

As a male practicing in speech-language pathology for over 30 years, I feel passionately that the gender imbalance is a serious problem in our profession. It is not only an issue of professional concern. It is also an issue of cultural and linguistic diversity. From our first moment as social beings, males and females communicate differently. We need to be cognizant of that in our treatment. After all, if males and females all communicated the same way, there would be no need whatsoever for our services among the people who transition from one gender to the other.

In my original training and in all the continuing education I attend, gender has received scant attention. As a graduate student many years ago in supervised clinical practicum, all of my university supervisors were female. Working there predominantly with children, most of my supervisors and my peers used therapeutic discourse styles that seemed uncomfortable, foreign and inappropriate for me as a male. Fortunately, as a male clinician, I discovered a therapeutic discourse style that works for me and my clients. To this day, however, when I attend an ASHA convention, I often feel like someone from a neglected minority culture.

What needs to be done? I am not sure. I wonder, for one, what the role is of our university programs. From what I hear, there are far more applicants than they are able to accept. In their admissions policies, however, they are the gatekeepers to our profession. I am also quite certain that we, who are already practicing in the profession, need to be aware of gender in communication and of the value of having both genders represented. We became aware of the value of diversity for other cultural and linguistic differences decades ago.

Here is one last example. In 2006, I attended a panel presentation at the ASHA convention about ethnographic and sociolinguistic aspects of communication research. Addressing a panel of experts, I raised the question about the ethnographic characteristics of the field investigators in the various studies presented. Almost invariably, the field investigators were female graduate students in their 20s. And yet no attention was given to the possibility that this might have influenced the responses of any of the subjects in the studies. Some of the panel members raised their voices and roundly criticized me for even raising the gender issue. A couple of others, to my relief, expressed that there was some merit in the question. If some experts in ethnography don’t “get it,” where does that leave the rest of us?

Beth Macauley and Courtney Karasinski, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, Mich.:

We thought you would like to know that the boys are at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan! Seventeen percent of our inaugural master of science in speech-language pathology class that begins in two weeks are boys (five out of 30) and between five percent and 10 percent of our undergraduate students are boys, depending on the academic year. Since our program in communication sciences and disorders is three years old and our largest class size is 30 students, we have focused on faculty-student mentoring and advising. As a result of the personal relationships built, we have mothers, military, married, multilingual and “first-time-in-college-in their-family” students, as well as the men, among our student body. We are extremely proud of our GVSU speech-language pathology students and encourage others to give us a look. We also encourage any person certified professional (especially in Michigan) to contact us about supervising our wonderful students and joining our SLP family!

Chuck Moore, South Bend, Ind.:

After reading the August 2013 ASHA Leader, I found several of the articles very interesting. I retired in June 2012 after serving in an urban public school setting for 48 years. I began my career as a practicing SLP and then as a supervisor of several therapy and special education staffs. I can relate very well to being either one of very few males or the sole male both during undergraduate and graduate school and working as a professional. Our school district’s SLPs have implemented block scheduling, provided services in the classroom, and utilized RTI procedures despite high caseloads; certified SLPs have full caseloads while also supervising bachelor-degree assistants. Often these capable individuals are unable to gain entrance to graduate school because universities accept a small numbers of applicants.

The lack of males, particularly African American and Latino males in the urban setting, has been of growing concern, as is the growing shortage of SLPs. Budget shortages limit salaries and school districts’ ability to provide support for continuing education opportunities. The Ohio Department of Education and universities are to be commended for implementing the OMNIE program.

I believe there will be an increase in SLPs (including males) if responsible individuals in state and federal government see that school budgets address realistically the needs of qualified individuals to serve our children appropriately.

 


  

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