After an internal discourse about the field of psychology being very female-centric, we at (The Thought Co.) got very curious. As a woman-run organisation with a team that consists mostly of women, it made us think about how it is that there are such few men (and other genders) in this field; which was only followed by a deluge of questions.
What makes them choose psychology as a profession? Since it is a female-dominated field, does that affect the full time vs. freelance roles we take up? With the pandemic increasing the need for more MH practitioners, has that led to more psychology jobs? With the increase of new MH ventures, has that impacted gender representation in the field? Why is there not enough research on gender representation done in the field? Are non-psychology individuals monetising the field and is that, in turn, impacting the ethical and quality of the field? You get the gist.
This discussion went on for what felt like most of the year, but it left us feeling like we were chasing our tails (because it kept bringing up more questions - as you can tell - and there was no research to help answer them).
So we did what most enthusiastic, curious people did. We decided to do a small survey to help us resolve our own doubts: gather data and let that data guide us.
However, one of the major roadblocks we faced was that people in the field were not as enthusiastic as we were. Our survey was met with a lot of following up and hounding people which honestly felt… a bit odd. We all know what it's like to do our research thesis in college; collecting data was not easy and at times, we lost a lot of our initial willpower (and also, some of the enthusiasm). Although, most of us had our classmates to help us stay our course and persevere back then; we did not seem to have the same experience now that we were working professionally.
Did our psychology fraternity disband once we all got our degrees? Although we still had each other to incentivize the whole process and have a ton of fun, it did make us think about all the individual researchers who don't have the same kind of support we shared at work. Two minutes of silence for all the willpower we lost during the research journey.
Now, let’s jump into what we narrowed down for ourselves so that our data could guide us. We wanted to get a generalised overview of the field, wherein we wanted to focus on 4 factors: gender, role in organisation, education & academic background and employment status.
We felt that gender was an important factor because there is a conscious need for the male perspective since men and women’s brains are programmed to work differently. It is also seen that women are under-represented in academia and leadership as compared to men, which could further impact the gender stereotypes.
We considered role in organisations as a parameter because women have always ended up being given limited opportunity to fill leadership roles, even when they are delivering more in the healthcare workforce, which means that more men end up taking leadership roles. This only skews opportunities further, since women will not advance as much and thus, fulfil gender stereotypes.
On the other hand, we felt that the academic background was an important factor since training and academic achievement is only the first step towards developing expertise in the field. Individual factors such as interests, perception, knowledge, etc. as well as tenure in the field help build towards expertise and competence. Hence, helping us evaluate whether just a degree (without the practical insight and necessary work experience) can actually make you a reliable mental health professional (or not)?
We felt that employment status was a crucial stakeholder because women are less likely than men to be in full-time employment. This leads men to be more likely to obtain private sector jobs in occupations where public sector wage ceilings often exist, whereas women are more likely to obtain lower paid private sector jobs, which tend to offer less job security and favour part-time employment. There is an interplay between freelancing and loneliness when it comes to mental health professionals, which can cause job instability on a whole. We would eventually need to explore if it impacts women’s employment stability as a consequence.
We took some time to mull over the data and see how we feel about it.
Reviewing the data led us to:
- Firstly, feel sad because we didn't anticipate how hard it would be to convince our psychology comrades to participate. This led us to evaluate how disconnected we are in this field? What was actually separating us?
- Also, less representation in the field could mean that the field gets too feminised; running the risk of financial stagnancy as well as male programming getting drowned out.
- Our data suggested that there is an increasing trend of non-mental health professionals initiating mental health organisations and platforms. Although the capacity of the impact of non-mental health trained individuals in the field would need to be explored, we would still need to weigh the pros & cons of such a trend. Exploring the legitimacy and intention behind the initiation of a mental health organisation (as well as the non-mental health person) would need to be evaluated and the safeguards needed to protect the ethicalness of the field (which would also need to be enforced).
- Next, how do we ensure the legitimacy of the field since the door is currently open to anyone who doesn't have all the formal training as well as the disclosure of lack of training is not always done? The RCI certification is a step to legitimise the field and help maintain some level of professionalism. However, we would need to explore how accessible the training is for everyone. RCI certifications are difficult to obtain especially since the number of universities are very limited, geographically they are inaccessible, and they involve studying for an additional two years (post your master’s degree!). The monetary compensation to sustain an individual post their RCI certification doesn’t outweigh the number of years of not being financially independent either.
- Consecutively, our data also showed that even though women are a majority in the field, there is a gender disparity in terms of the roles they take up in the organisation. Women still face inequities in terms of financial compensation, power, and status compared to their male colleagues. Women typically get paid less than men for the same work. So a field that becomes predominantly female runs the risk of lower salaries across the board, making it a significantly low-paying field.
- Lastly, we observed a preference for freelancing over part-time employment among individuals. The factors that influence these preferences would need to be explored. Would factors such as financial compensation, family planning, culture, etc. influence the kind of employment in the field? Everything aside, we enjoyed touching the surface of the field and look forward to going more in depth and having deeper discussions.
What are your thoughts on our findings and explorations?
Meet the Author
Zahra is a mental health practitioner with a specialisation in clinical psychology. She has completed her training in Mumbai and London. Zahra is experienced in working with children, adolescents and young adults in various clinical setups. Her research interests lie in adapting therapeutic techniques to individuals with neuro-developmental disorders. She also volunteers for NGOs aimed at social change. She believes addressing both the psychological and social aspects of an individual.