According to the General Social Care Council, over 75 per cent of qualified social workers in England are female. This raises difficult questions over whether social work truly reflects the society it serves and whether it is an attractive career path for male graduates.
Social work comes under the broad category of the ‘caring professions’, along with vocations like nursing and teaching. This is a sector where men are underrepresented across the board and, whilst the reasons for this are complex, there’s still a lingering idea in society that men lack the ‘emotional capacity’ necessary for such roles. Some might still go as far as to argue that society is actively suspicious of men in care roles.
Those with a progressive outlook might balk at this idea and argue that we are in a society that views men and women as equally capable of being good carers. Yet the numbers suggest societal views still have some catching up to do with our aspirations. For example, a survey conducted by the charity Action for Children revealed that 16 per cent of people thought that men were not allowed to foster children.
The belief that men are less suited to caring positions needs to be deconstructed. But we might also want to question whether qualities like empathy and emotional sensitivity are the singularly most important parts of being a good social worker. Undoubtedly, these qualities are incredibly important, but what about ‘resilience’, ‘toughness’, ‘leadership’ and the ability to make difficult decisions, necessary for social workers of any gender?
the belief that men are less suited to caring positions needs to be deconstructed
Neil Hume, a children’s social worker and graduate of the University of Cambridge, points out that in social work “you will encounter troubling and upsetting situations where children are the victims of serious maltreatment, sometimes due to the actions of the adults who should be caring for them.” So while being a caring person is vital for any effective social worker, this needs to be paired with resilience and strength.
Additionally, whilst there is undeniably a lack of male social workers, when men do enter the profession they seem to be able to move into top positions quite quickly. Alex Reynolds, a trainee social worker, suggests it might be the case that there are too many men in senior positions. So while men are needed in frontline social work services, there is also a need for more women in the most senior positions.
it might be the case that there are too many men in senior positions
There’s also a question as to whether social work is considered enough by graduates full stop, regardless of gender. For example, it’s quite telling that Exeter doesn’t offer a social work degree to prospective undergraduates and that social work is infrequently promoted at career fairs and events.
A relatively new organisation called Frontline seems to be meeting some of these challenges in social work recruiting, attempting to bring more male graduates into social work, while also raising the status of the profession more generally. Frontline is a two-year, on-the-job graduate programme for child protection social work, which has recently rocketed to number 40 in the Times Top 100 list of graduate employers.
Frontline’s promotional material seeks to challenge the notion that social work is more suited for women and tries to highlight the many qualities that go into making effective social workers. The organisation aims to not only bring more men into the profession, but also to raise the status of social work in general and highlight how appealing it is to bright graduates, particularly for those who are concerned with issues of social justice.
Organisations like Frontline are making good progress, but there’s still work to be done. The hope is to get social work alongside the usual suspects in graduate recruitment like law, banking and professional services, for graduates of all genders.