Nine in ten social workers from minority ethnic backgrounds experience racism at work

Scottish social workers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds say that when they report racism, organisations are often “unprepared” and “uncomfortable”.

27/07/21

Nine in ten social workers from minority ethnic backgrounds experience racism at work

Black, Asian and minority ethnic social workers continue to experience racism at work, a report from the Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) finds.

Nearly 90% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic social workers in Scotland who responded to a survey from the Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) say they have experienced racism.

The results have been shared in a report, “Racism in Scottish social work: a 2021 snapshot”, which finds that when social workers report their experience of racism, organisations are often unprepared and uncomfortable, resulting in responses that are ineffective and feel dismissive.

Incidents of racism documented ranged from harassment and name calling to unwelcome hair touching and comments about skin colour.

Those who had reported incidents typically found responses from their employers unsatisfactory. One said: “It disappeared into a vacuum”. Another said, “I have been told on numerous occasions that it’s just part of the job and that I shouldn’t be offended.”

One respondent said dealing with racism was a daily struggle: “If I had to report all the incidents, it would be daily. You just learn to toughen up and keep it moving.” Another implied that the effects of racism are not always transparent: “They are clever enough not to make racial slurs openly. They just become nasty and isolate you and take their gossip underground.”

One respondent, who reported racist or prejudicial incidents over a number of years with different employers, said they no longer recommend speaking out: “I have been victimised and harassed for my actions, and my character has been exposed to all sorts of negative accusations to indicate that I was the problem. All of which have impacted on my confidence and identity.”

Oluwatoyin Adenugba, Chair of the Minority Ethnic Social Workers in Scotland group, said though she was not surprised by the results, she was still disheartened by the findings.

“Recently, I have been speaking with a wide variety of social workers who identify as ‘minority ethnic’ and regardless of the numbers of years of work experience, some have 30 or so plus years, the experience of explicit/implicit racism and discrimination remain the same.

“As such, it is heartening stakeholders across the country engaging in the conversation and creating awareness around this damaging issue.

“My hope is the change train will continue to move forward, and improvements are seen by those with lived experience.”

Issues were also raised in the report around a lack of Black, Asian and minority ethnic representation among social work lecturers and leadership.

Racism was also found to be prevalent in educational settings. Concerns about emotional wellbeing were also high among Black, Asian and minority ethnic students who were found to experience more difficulties in placements.

One student, who reported experiences of racism while on placement, said they received mixed responses, from dismissive to the case being taken from their caseload. They said it did not feel appropriate to challenge attitudes within student placement setting as the student is in a “vulnerable position”.

When asked what needs to be done to create more diverse and inclusive work and education environments: ‘training’ was the top answer, followed by ‘increasing diversity across the whole workforce’.

The report finds that racism can be embedded into work systems and, despite the values which underpin social work, warns that practitioners cannot assume that they are immune to the impacts of this.

Jude Currie, Chair of the SASW Committee, said that when people report racism they should feel supported and confident that organisations will respond effectively.

“Racism is being experienced regularly by our workforce, it is exhausting for them and no one in the sector should think this is acceptable.

Social Work Scotland, the professional body for directors of social services in Scotland, said in a statement that the report was “sobering”.

“Social workers should feel confident and supported by their organisations, and it is our responsibility to be explicit in our actions to address racism together. We look forward to working with colleagues across the profession to make a real difference.”

Last month, the regulator for social work in England launched two similar surveys to help the sector get a better understanding of equality, diversity and inclusion and the impact of racism.

“The survey asks quite a lot of questions around experiences, of racism, and it asks for all social workers of all backgrounds to complete this information, and I think that’s going to really help us to capture the data,” Ahmina Akhtar, Social Work England’s head of equality, diversity and inclusion said. “It also asks about the impact of those experiences and potentially what we can do to support that, and that will then help to inform an action plan.”

Read the full report (PDF): https://www.basw.co.uk/system/files/resources/racism_in_scottish_social_work_-_a_2021_snapshot.pdf

Note on terminology: People who experience racism are not a homogenous group, and there is no one phrase to describe this group. This report uses the phrase ‘Black, Asian and minority ethnic’, however we acknowledge that the terms are unsatisfactory and do not provide an accurate reflection of the characteristics of the people who they attempt to categorise.

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