As a white Canadian male, being in the minority in Halifax, Nova Scotia was foreign to me – until I entered my first dietetics class at Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU). Prior to stepping into that classroom, I had no exposure to the field of dietetics and, frankly, didn’t know what a dietitian was until ten months earlier when I Googled “nutrition jobs.”
I was clueless to the gender imbalance in the profession and, upon entering the classroom, I thought the disproportionally high number of females might just be a product of the high number at MSVU.
Later, I learned this was representative of dietetics nationally. And it became especially clear when I attended my first DC conference: one of the men’s bathrooms had been pragmatically repurposed into a women’s room and the urinals were cheerfully decorated with flowers.
Being one of three males in my year at MSVU was noticeable but not uncomfortable. It did however, increase my curiosity about the sex imbalance in the dietetics profession.
When Dr. Daphne Lordly presented me the opportunity to help with a couple of projects related to men in dietetics to finish my master’s course work requirements, I jumped. One of these projects was a literature review on the topic, which can now be found as an e-first article
and will appear in the December issue of the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research.
Writing this review led to reflection of my educational path and made me ask new questions. For example, was it a coincidence that I was most interested in the research being conducted by the only male on faculty for my honour’s project? Moreover, why did I subsequently choose the only male faculty member to be my master’s thesis supervisor?
Interestingly, Daphne Lordly and I initially both seemed to have similar ideas of perceived male dietitian stereotypes. These stereotypes included the aspiring sports dietitian (my original ambition), and the more sensitive man in touch with his female (read: caring) side.
So where did these ideas come from? I knew no males in the program currently interested in sports nutrition and the literature certainly wasn’t deep enough for these ideas to have developed from reading it.
Once I started writing the literature review, the most transformative moment came shortly before submission when my co-author challenged me to take a leap and offer something of substance to close the article beyond the typical, “more research is needed.” So I re-read my article with this in mind. The rationale was logical and based on the literature. Position papers called for sex balance in dietetics so that the profession’s demographics could better reflect the population it served. Then factors related to gender and sex that might impact the way men experience the profession were explored and preliminary suggestions on how to make the profession more welcoming to men were offered.
One question continued to nag however, no one had offered evidence on how inviting a flood of men into the profession was supposed to be beneficial. I was led to this revelation: Is the fact that we have so few male dietitians a good reason to change certain aspects of the profession to cater to them?
If dietetics forbade men from joining, I would be the first to call for immediate change, but this obviously isn’t true. We currently have a profession that, at the training and professional levels, is female dominated. A number of reasons could be causing this, starting long before an application to a dietetics program is started. I believe that if men currently feel uncomfortable in dietetics, we should address the root cause of those problems and work to resolve them. But that’s not an endorsement of intensive efforts to increase the number of men in the profession.
To reverse the trend of dietetics being female dominated in Canada, great efforts will have to be made – likely at great expense. This expense will be financial but also cultural. The cultural ramifications will be less predictable and could be more devastating. For example, would a switch of focus to include only men in promotional material or heavily advertising the sports nutrition aspect of the profession make women feel less welcome or interested?
How will we feel if at the annual conference we have to take the flowers out of the urinals and restore bathroom balance? I joke, of course, but if making the profession more male friendly, makes it less female friendly is that a risk worth taking?
Before large amounts of money are spent trying to close the gender divide, we are better off spending a small portion of that money on research to understand if changing the sex dynamics of the profession would improve anyone’s experience (the client or the practitioner).
In closing, I have come to realize that I really don’t care that there are so few male dietitians. What I care about is creating the strongest profession with the greatest capacity for doing good, irrespective of sex.
Editor's note: Like Brandon, I find this topic fascinating! Be sure to read his journal article in the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research. If you want to learn more about this topic, listen to “Men in dietetics: A pathway to action” in the DC Learning on Demand library. It is free for members.
Please leave comments, thoughts, or questions for Brandon below!