Men comprise less than 20% of the audiology workforce according to the latest wage and benefits survey from AAA, published September of 2016.  In fact, the survey participants were almost 83% female this go around.  That puts the audiology profession on par with elementary and middle school teachers (81% female) and far more imbalanced than other so-called “pink-collar” professions such as psychology and counselors (67% and 71% female, respectively).  

David Kirkwood wrote on the gender imbalance in audiology on April 18, 2012. His words are as true today as they were five years ago.  With the advent of Audiology Now! in Indianapolis this week, it’s timely to revisit those words.  

 

By David H. Kirkwood  april 18 2012

 

Now that I’ve got your attention with this headline and, I hope, that of every Internet search engine, I’ve got a confession to make. What I’m writing about this week at Hearing Views is really gender rather than sex in its more provocative sense.

But hang in there, especially if you’re an audiologist. The issue of gender, specifically of the gender gap in your profession, is a serious one. I was reminded of it again recently in Boston, while attending AudiologyNOW! 2012. It was a great convention. I learned a lot and enjoyed meeting old friends and new, including my colleagues from Hearinghealthmatters.org, most of whom were there.

Having covered all but three of the American Academy of Audiology’s 24 annual conventions, I was well aware of the strong trend toward female dominance of audiology. However, just how far it has gone—and especially among the younger audiologists and audiology students–seemed more striking to me in Boston than ever before.

Before I continue, let me make one point absolutely clear: There are not too many women in audiology!

 

The problem, and I think it’s one that’s serious and getting more so by the year, is that there are far too few men in audiology. The failure of the profession to attract young men is one of the major reasons that university programs are not graduating enough new doctors of audiology to meet the fast-growing demand for their services.

 

Even apart from the looming shortage of audiologists, I believe that being a profession in which one gender makes up the great majority of its practitioners has negative implications for audiology. Before discussing that, I’d like to look at the relatively short history of the field.

 

Audiology and Gender: It Wasn’t Always this Way

 

When the field of audiology developed during and following World War II, very few women were part of it. In those bad old days, it was widely assumed that women should not work outside the home unless they had to for economic reasons. And, if they did choose to pursue a career, they were usually steered into one of the few—school teachers, nurses, and secretaries—that society considered suitable for women.

To be sure, audiology did have some female pioneers in the 1950s, women like Marion Downs, Laura Wilber, and Margo Skinner, who have made extraordinary contributions. However, the profession remained male-dominated.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the rights and abilities of women finally began to be more widely recognized in this country. Workplace barriers started to fall, and new career opportunities opened up for women as physicians, lawyers, soldiers, scientists, and business executives. Audiology also benefited from an influx of female talent streaming into the field.

Yet, even as recently as 1988, when the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) was founded, only seven of the 32 original members were women.

 

Now, Only 20% Are Men

 

In the quarter-century since then, the picture has changed dramatically. By the end of 2004, only 30% of AAA members were men. Of these, 78% were over age 40, while only half of the women were, a clear sign that the balance would continue tipping toward female membership.

 

Last fall, AAA’s annual survey of members found that the gender gap had widened to 80%-20%, a ratio of four women for every man.

 

Now, I don’t think that professions need to aim for a 50-50 split between the sexes. There may always be more women than men drawn to nurturing and caregiving professions such as elementary school teaching and nursing. And chances are that physically demanding jobs like firefighting and construction will remain primarily the domain of men.

 

Not A Helpful Image

 

However, the fewer men there are in audiology, the more it will be seen as “a woman’s profession.” What’s wrong with that?

Well, first of all, it will mean that the profession misses out on a lot of people who have the potential to be good audiologists, but never consider it or have it suggested to them as a good career option for a man. Think of all the outstanding male audiologists, present and past, and consider how much poorer the profession would be without them.

Also, while I wish it weren’t the case, when a field develops an image of being a woman’s profession, it usually pays less well than comparable professions with a significant percentage of men. While efforts to achieve equal pay for equal work have succeeded to a degree, that goal remains unfulfilled. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research,  women’s median annual pay is only 77 cents for each dollar earned by men.

 

Seek Them Out

 

Unlike elementary school education and nursing, audiology is not a field that male college students and graduates all know about but don’t usually choose to pursue. I’ve got no data, but I’ll bet that a career in audiology has never crossed the minds of most college seniors and graduates. And that’s a shame.

After all, audiology is a valuable profession and one for which there will be a growing need for decades to come. It’s also one that has been perennially singled out by U.S. News and World Report and CareerCast.com as one of today’s best career choices.

 

The audiology establishment, especially the dozens of university audiology programs, should be doing more to bring the field to the attention of young men as well as women. One important step they should take is to look beyond undergraduate speech pathology programs as a source of graduate students in audiology. Drawing so heavily on that discipline, which is also predominantly female, is one reason that the overwhelming majority of current graduate students in audiology are women.

 

Looking farther afield would not only increase the number of men going into audiology; it would also draw people with a broader range of knowledge and interests. For example, consider college graduates with a pre-med background who, for whatever reason, did not go on to medical school. Wouldn’t they be as well or better prepared for an AuD program than a speech major? And what about bright college graduates who majored in history or philosophy because they were interested in the subject, but find their job prospects dim? It should not be too late for them to enter the brave new world of audiology.

Perhaps audiology’s leaders do not agree that their profession would be healthier if it had more male practitioners. But if they do believe that the widening gender gap is a problem, then they should take action soon while there are still enough men left to show that audiology is not for women only!

 

Editor’s note: For further discussions on this topic, readers are encouraged to review the following posts from Holly Hosford-Dunn at Hearing Economics:

The Battle of the Sexes Rages on as Professional Wage Gaps Widen

Growth and Gender Politics: “Women Jobs” and “Women Wages”

 

References

 

American Academy of Audiology.  2016 Compensation and Benefits Report.  December 28, 2016.

Elkins K.  20 jobs that are dominated by women. Business Insider, Feb. 17, 2015.

 

feature image from Business Insider

In part two of this series, first published in March of 2012, David H. Kirkwood considered the audiology workforce and the audiology training programs which support it. Historical evolution within the field and possible unintended consequences are considered and remain relevant in today’s labor market.  

 

By David H. Kirkwood

Last week in this space, I commented on the rankings of university audiology programs that U.S. News & World Report publishes every few years. While suggesting that no one should take the scores and ratings too seriously, I conceded that they are probably of some use to potential students and faculty. What’s more, they give the audiology community, and those of us who cover, it something interesting to talk about.

While not central to the U.S. News report, it presented one fact that I found disturbing, though certainly not surprising. The publication assigned scores and rankings to 68 doctoral programs. It declined to rank several others because their scores were lower than 2.0. Thus, there are upwards of 70 separate institutions from which one can obtain a doctor of audiology degree (AuD) or other doctorate in the field.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 12,800 audiologists were employed in the United States in 2008. While I’ve seen higher estimates, they have all been in the same general ballpark. Has the number of audiologists greatly increased since 2008? It probably should have given the growing demand. But, according to ASHA, only 500 to 600 new audiologists have graduated annually in recent years, which may not even be sufficient to replace the number leaving the profession.

What this means is that there is one degree-awarding program in audiology for every 180 or so practitioners. And the average program graduates fewer than 10 new AuDs a year.

Now, let’s compare that with other healthcare professions. In optometry, a somewhat comparable field, the BLS reported that about 35,000 people were employed in this country in 2008. Just 20 schools award doctors of optometry, one for every 1750 in the work force.

Dentistry, which employs more than 140,000 people with DDS degrees and other doctorates, has about 60 professional training programs, or one for every 2300 dentists. In 2009, they graduated an average of about 80 new dentists per school.

The numbers are similar for other fields, including medicine, the granddaddy of them all. There, 134 institutions award MD degrees, one for about every 7500 practicing physicians. By the way, medical schools, while less than twice as numerous as audiology programs, graduate about 16,000 MDs a year, more than 25 times the annual crop of AuD recipients.

 

IT WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE THIS WAY

Today’s students and junior faculty members may not know this, but the current system of professional education in the field is still quite new.  Not until 1996 did anyone have an AuD degree, and less than a decade ago you could go into audiology with only a master’s.

Now, of course, every new audiologist is a doctor, and the great majority of practitioners hold the AuD, the professional degree. This development resulted from the vision and determination of a small group of audiologists, mostly private practitioners, who launched the AuD movement in 1988. To a remarkable degree they achieved their ambitious goals.

Those becoming audiologists today do so after completing longer (four years in most cases, rather than three) and more practitioner-oriented graduate training programs than did the previous generations of master’s degree holders. As a result, they come into the field better prepared to provide clinical services than was the case before the AuD.

They also enter the world of health care as doctors, surely a plus in terms of how they are perceived by patients, employers, other doctors, and the public in general.

However, in at least one area, today’s reality is nothing like the original vision. The advocates of the professional doctorate in audiology envisioned that the educational system would develop more along the lines of the medical model. A fairly small number of AuD programs would emerge, which would together have sufficient faculty and facilities to serve the educational needs of the entire profession nationwide.

These programs would be separate from and independent of the speech and language departments that had traditionally exercised so much influence over audiology education. And it was expected that AuD programs would attract students more like those aiming at careers in other areas of healthcare, who typically have a strong background in science.

Instead, what we’ve seen are dozens of programs, drawing for the most part women (and a few men) who earned their undergraduate degrees in speech and then, very often, remained at the same university for their post-graduate education in audiology.

 

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

I’m sure that, as U.S. News found, there are a good number of outstanding places to earn an AuD. However, there was a good reason why those who made the AuD happen advocated for fewer and larger programs than existed pre-AuD.

To provide the depth and breadth of education necessary to fully prepare new doctors of audiology takes a major commitment by a university. A top-notch program requires a substantial faculty with a wide variety of expertise, including many who are actively involved in patient care. It must also be well equipped and give its students access to a teaching clinic.

It is difficult to see how a university program with only a small audiology faculty and a handful of AuD students in a class can afford to provide the quality of training that future audiologists need. Unfortunately, this situation seems unlikely to change soon. Theoretically, the accrediting bodies could refuse to accredit programs that don’t live up to the highest standards. However, that seems very unlikely.

Perhaps over time, market forces will rectify the situation. If excellent programs begin to build reputations that enable them to draw more and more of the best students and faculty, weaker ones may decide they can no longer compete.

One self-correcting mechanism might be for multiple small programs in a geographic area region to join forces to create a single, larger program that offers its students more. That has been done successfully by the Northeast Ohio and the University of Wisconsin AuD consortiums.

Clearly, this is a highly sensitive topic. No one wants to see faculty losing their jobs. But the highest priority for every university audiology program must be to prepare its students to be excellent audiologists. Nothing else matters as much.

 

*Featured image courtesy pixabay