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:
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