And how you can support them!
Did you know that almost 70% of all physical therapists in the United States are female? It’s true! The data indicates that more than six in every ten physical therapists are female. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) was even founded by women, and was initially known as the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association (AWPTA). The first president of this organization? You guessed it, a woman! Mary McMillan was one of many amazing women whose influence shaped the physical therapy profession into what we see today. In addition to founding the APTA, in 1921 these women published the first issue of what is now known as PTJ: Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Journal, the official journal of the APTA.
The physical therapy profession would not be where it is today without the hard work and dedication of so many leading women, both in the very early days of the profession and throughout the years to follow.
How can you further support women in physical therapy?
Foster connections with female PT colleagues and highlight their accomplishments.
Reach out and connect with other female physical therapists in your community or online (now that we’re living in a digital world, it has never been easier to reach out on twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook). Building a diverse network of colleagues is a great way to get to know other amazing physical therapists and learn what they are contributing to the profession. Likewise, if you read an article authored by a coworker or are proud of their most recent accomplishment, let them know! Sharing feedback and excitement is a valuable way to inspire and celebrate others. It can be as simple as a like, share, or comment on their social media platforms to highlight to others in your circle their ideas, accomplishments, and contribution to the profession.
Amplify female voices and address inequalities in opportunity in the PT profession.
After expanding your network, listen to learn from others so you can understand them, what they are passionate about, and help amplify their voices so great ideas don’t go unheard. When planning or participating in professional opportunities, such as discussion panels or guest lectures, consider branching out from your typical network to invite and collaborate with others so that they can partake in the conversation. Understanding the barriers some may face to participate in certain opportunities is another great place to start so that more accessible options are made available.
Recommend and nominate female PTs for leadership roles.
Great leadership empowers others to step into their full potential. Women in particular have been shown to lead in different ways than men, with greater emphasis on fostering inclusivity and diversity to gather people together for a common goal. This type of leadership has the potential to make remarkable changes and achieve great outcomes, but women are still more hesitant to apply for leadership positions compared to men. Women are even less likely to apply for positions if they don’t meet all of the requirements, whereas men are more likely to apply regardless – often landing the job because they took a leap and applied anyway. If you think a female peer would be a great fit for a leadership role, discuss it with them! Nominate candidates you believe in. Encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone and hone in on their leadership capabilities. While this area is improving, we still need more female physical therapists in leadership roles for greater representation and more role models for aspiring female physical therapists to look up to.
Address and advocate for equal pay of female PTs.
Physical therapy in general has done a better job than other professions when it comes to addressing the wage gap that exists between female and male therapists. However, the data still suggests men are paid more than women overall. This is due to multiple factors, including shortage of women in leadership roles and managerial positions, gender bias in the language used in job listings, and even a lack of confidence in negotiating skills for female therapists compared to males. If you are in a hiring role, make sure that your employees are compensated appropriately based on skill level and experience, regardless of gender. Additionally, mentoring students and new grads in how to negotiate and prepare for interviews will equip them with more confidence when it comes to applying for positions and discussing salary.
Women have been, and still remain, an integral part of the physical therapy profession. Let’s continue to work collectively towards inclusivity and diversity, so that women are celebrated, recognized, promoted, and compensated adequately for their contributions!
Jette AM. 95 Years of Progress. Phys Ther. 2016;96(8): 1122–1123. https://doi.org/10.2522/ptj.2016.96.8.1122
APTA 100 Years 1921-2021. APTA. 2021. Accessed March 3, 2022. https://centennial.apta.org/home/timeline/#story-949
Ries, E. Empowering Women in the Profession. APTA Magazine. November 1, 2020. Accessed March 3, 2022. https://www.apta.org/apta-magazine/2020/11/01/empowering-women-in-the-profession