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Social work needs more men to represent the communities it serves, research says

New research analyses the lack of male practitioners in the profession and argues for an increased range of gender balance, to be more representative of the communities it serves.

08/07/24

Social work needs more men to represent the communities it serves, research says

New research identifies the barriers for males qualifying as social workers and calls for action to increase the number of men in the profession so that social workers can represent the communities they serve.

Published in the British Journal of Social Work, 'Male social work students: common dispositions, motivations, experiences and barriers impacting their career choice' offers new insights into the gender balance of social workers in the UK.

Led by Dr David Galley, Course Leader Social Work at Solent University, Southampton, researchers worked with male social work students by utilising surveys, field observations, semi-structured interviews and the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) test – which is used to measure an individual’s femininity and masculinity – to understand both what draws and repels males from the profession.

On his study, David says: "This research adds to and re-ignites the discussion on social work as an occupation which is predominantly taken up by professionals who identify as female.

“As a sector which purports to champion diversity and equality, this paper suggests it looks within its own ranks to exemplify these ideals. For the first time, this research locates sources of potential candidates for social work in terms of their gender, while addressing perceptions of ‘low status’ within the profession".

Dr Galley’s research highlights the capital participants feel they hold due to their gender and the patriarchal dividend, while the study’s findings themselves suggest otherwise. Furthermore, the paper outlines that social attitudes concerning ‘appropriate’ gender roles serve as a barrier to males entering the profession:

“It’s important to note that the subtle bias against men in this field is a reflexive reaction stemming from a perception of social work as inherently gendered.”

In response, Dr Galley suggests there are opportunities for the profession to evolve; introducing social work at an earlier age, to all genders, and promoting the vocation as a viable career for anyone, as well as targeting recruitment activities at previously undefined groups. Additionally, study participants suggested a ‘re-style’ of the profession is needed, with a job title that reflects the status of such an important role.

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