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Speech and language therapy/pathology: Perspectives on a gendered profession

Litosseliti, L. & Leadbeater, C. (2013). Speech and language therapy/pathology: Perspectives on a gendered profession. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 48(1), pp. 90-101. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-6984.2012.00188.x


Background: The Speech and Language Therapy/Pathology (SLT/SLP) profession is characterised 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 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 & Procedure: 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: preliminary data phase – which involved semi-structured interviews with newly qualified SLT graduates and practising SLTs, and completion of questionnaires by undergraduate SLTs – and main/ focus group phase. In the focus group phase, reported in this paper, six focus groups in total were held with SLTs, teachers of speech and language therapy, 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.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: Science & Technology, Social Sciences, Life Sciences & Biomedicine, Audiology & Speech-Language Pathology, Linguistics, Rehabilitation, AUDIOLOGY & SPEECH-LANGUAGE PATHOLOGY, LINGUISTICS, REHABILITATION, SCI, REHABILITATION, SSCI, speech and language therapy, gendered discourses, focus groups, career choice, STUDENTS, PERCEPTIONS, CAREER, MEN
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Language & Communication Science
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