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Keywords:

  • speech and language therapy;
  • gendered discourses;
  • focus groups;
  • career choice

Abstract

Background

The speech and language therapy/pathology (SLT/SLP) profession is characterized by extreme ‘occupational sex segregation’, a term used to refer to persistently male- or female-dominated professions. Men make up only 2.5% of all SLTs in the UK, and a similar imbalance is found in other countries. Despite calls to increase diversity in the allied health professions more generally, research into the reasons for occupational sex segregation and gender as a potential key factor remains scarce.

Aims

This study aims to explore the potential role of gender/gendered discourses in people's decision to pursue a career in SLT/SLP. It seeks to illustrate how gendered assumptions/expectations/discourses continue to construct SLT as a ‘gendered’ profession, and to make some recommendations in this area for SLT recruitment and practice.

Methods & Procedures

The study adopted a qualitative design which elicited research participants’ views, knowledge and experiences (in their own words) in relation to the research questions. Data collection involved two iterative phases: a preliminary data phase—which involved semi-structured interviews with newly qualified SLT graduates and practising SLTs, and the completion of questionnaires by undergraduate SLTs—and a main/focus group phase. In the focus group phase reported in this paper, six focus groups in total were held with SLTs, teachers of SLT, and careers advisors in London, UK. The data were analysed qualitatively using grounded theory principles, thematic analysis and discourse analysis.

Outcomes & Results

The findings extend our knowledge and understanding of gender as a parameter of people's motivations and perceptions, which can influence their choice of career (e.g. as regards pay and flexibility). The findings also show that discourses around women as carers, nurturers and communicators constitute key ways through which the SLT profession continues to be constructed as ‘women's work’. The topic of structural gender inequalities in the profession was also discussed in the data. Some recommendations for change, with implications for SLT recruitment and practice, were made by the participants themselves.

Conclusions & Implications

Gender imbalance in SLT needs to be researched further in order to help address inequalities, re-evaluate professional practices and develop service delivery in the profession. This area also needs to be researched via analysis that goes beyond gender distribution in numerical terms to consider the complex perceptions or discourses around gender and work. Cross-disciplinary and comparative perspectives in future research would also be fruitful.