Does it matter if psychologists are unrepresentative?

A letter from our February edition.

We wrote to The Psychologist (May 2015) about the demographics of those who apply to our educational psychology (EP) training programme and enter the profession: there is an apparent skew towards white females.

Looking at the responses to our query one major theme emerged, that of female/male stereotyping and early experiences of psychology. Introductions to psychology (particularly A-level) appear to be more likely to attract women than men. Respondents suggested females may opt for choices that can lead to ‘caring profession’ careers. Other issues of equality and diversity were also mentioned (e.g. race and sexuality), but respondents in the main focused as indicated above.

There were for us three other telling responses: First, from a sole male trainee on an EP training programme, to the effect that male experience and voice may be lost in the training experience where there is a significant gender imbalance in the cohort; second, from a clinical psychologist, that this imbalance seems present in at least one other applied branch of the discipline; and third, one respondent’s candid confession that ‘…how to attract more males to study psychology in the first place is beyond me’.

As scientists we are aware of the need for caution. We have a sense that issues of demographic imbalance may increasingly pervade psychology, but believe this needs further exploration. Consequently, we are asking the British Psychological Society to consider this issue to establish:
I    whether our suspicions are grounded in evidence;
I    whether or not this possible demographic imbalance is found more widely;
I    whether it matters if the members of a profession are unrepresentative of the population it seeks to serve;
I    the extent to which this is of concern to them; and as a consequence
I    whether and what actions may be necessary in response.

Wilma Barrow
Simon Gibbs
David Lumsdon
Richard Parker
Billy Peters
Doctorate in Applied Educational Psychology Programme Team
Newcastle University

Editor’s note: We have sought a response to this letter, which we hope to publish in the next issue.

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