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Analysing The Role Of Women In Social Care Social Work Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

It could be argued, that work within the social care profession is predominantly women-centred due to the fact it is mainly a female profession. However, research shows that this may not be the case. Although the majority of staff is indeed women, men, however, make up the majority of senior management roles (Dominelli, 2004). This inevitability produces a situation whereby, the decisions regarding policy are made mainly by men for women. The focus of this study is to critically examine the fact that although women overwhelmingly undertake the majority of the caring roles within the social care profession, these organisations remain firmly under patriarchal power.

This essay will consider the role of women as professionals, carers and managers within social care organisations. It will examine traditional theories of management, the challenges faced by women who become professionals and managers and strategies appropriate for the effective delivery of care. To conclude it will consider whether there is indeed a role for female managers within an environment dominated by men.

Social work can be seen as originating from industrialisation in the nineteenth century and the Charity Organisation Societies of Great Britain and America (Payne, 2005). Dominelli (2004) argues these organisations promoted ‘friendly visiting’ and ‘prevented disorganised charitable giving’. This ‘organised’ way of working was the first step to establishing social work as a discrete area of activity and as a profession (Adams, 2003).

Professional relationships inside hospitals reflected the Victorian patriarchal family ideal, where female nurses were perceived as mothers and carers and male doctors as fathers (Deacon, 2002). These stereotyped ideas eventually characterised the power relations within other bureaucratic structures (Payne, 2000). Professionalism was viewed as a practice based on a long training period, a degree of autonomy, with membership to a group. This particular degree of social distance characterised professions as enjoying high status and autonomy (Payne, 2005).

Nurses and social workers were consigned to the category of semi-professional, on account of their perceived limitations of their training, knowledge base and autonomy (Nazarko, 2004). The claim that nursing and social work lacked the basis of technical or abstract knowledge, that domestic skills and interpersonal skills were more suited, could be argued, reinforced the discourses of semi-professionalism (Banks, 2001).

In addition, work based in state welfare bureaucratises, such as those of social work and nursing, did no commenstrate with the traditional idea of professionalism (Payne, 2005). Thompson (2002) supports this argument stating social workers and remedial therapy occupations were often viewed as semi-professionals as they did not fulfil all the attributes within the ‘trait’ approach (Thompson, 2002). Sharkey (2000) takes this further, critical of implications of the associations of women with the caring role, stating that it represents a ‘social construction’ and is ‘division of power exerted over women by men’. In the same way sexism is constructed, it must be viewed that other marginalised groups, such as black, disabled groups are subject to the same issues of power imbalance (Dominelli, 2004).

To counter this imbalance and provide professionalism with a career structure and job security, most professionals in health and social care work in large formal organisation (Moonie, 2004). Traditional concepts of professionalism has changed as professionals are employed in either a clinical or an expert role to perform certain, clearly defined, tasks or be involved in service management (Bradshaw, 2004)

Miller (2004) argues that professionals attempt to seek to reclaim professionalism by seeking power over territory by defining an area of expertise which is theirs alone. Thompson (2002) believes by the seeking of power through a claim of expertise, may actually disadvantage the very people whom professionals aim to help.

In attempt to counter imbalance of power, professionals possess specific codes of conduct and ethics (Banks, 2001). Scott (2001) argues this is necessary, that professionalism implies not just expertise, but moral responsibility. For the social worker, their ‘moral’ philosophy is embedded within a specific professional Code of Practice (Adams, 2003).

Rather than self regulating groups with claims of moral conduct, it may be that professionals are operating obstructive practices (Banks, 2001). With the emergence of ‘consumerism’ and the subsequent ‘contract culture’, there has been an increase in the administrative approach and the growth of procedures and one could argue, will undermine their pledge for moral responsibility (Adams, 2002).

Dominelli (2002) suggests social workers are increasingly having to meet the demands of government performance strategies, the cloak of specialist knowledge could be interpreted merely as a disguise to win resource battles, or to exercise group power politics (Adams et al, 2009). It could be argued that this is inevitably a result of a globalising world economy, a ‘New Right’ philosophy of ‘value for money’ and a demand that people look after themselves (Means et al, 2003). Furthermore, within the current political climate, professionals have to be committed to providing seamless, client led services, with a greater demand for accountability for the public resources expended in service provision (Brechin et al, 2000).

According to Butcher (2006) many professionals may find problems arise within the agency context. They may find there is dichotomy of interest with their role as a ‘professional’ and the role and responsibility within the organisation (Butcher, 2006). In the first instance, the interest of their client may be paramount, however, acting as ‘gatekeepers’ they manage the planning and distribution of services (Bauld et al, 20004). The NHS and Community Care Act 1990 implies professionals share power, however, acting as ‘gatekeeper’ may only mean power and control will still remain with the state (Sharkey, 2000).

To counter oppressive practices alongside organisational constraints, professionals can work in a number of anti-oppressive ways (Tibbs, 2001). Social workers can look at particular ways of thinking that will counter the oppressive elements of a professional status. For example, social workers working from an anti-sexist or anti-racist way. Professionals can utilise legislation and agency policy and use them as tools to effectively bring about change and combat oppression (Killick, 2001). .

The government’ policy of ‘caring in the community’ could be said to further reinforce oppression, whereby, informal care is reliant on the goodwill of women to undertake the free caring role of a relative or to undertake low paid work within social care (Bradshaw, 2004). By contrast, following the ‘natural’ assumption that men should be in paid work, if men do undertake the caring of a relative or friend, they often considered incapable of undertaking domestic work so are usually offered more help and support than a woman in a similar situation (Scott, 2001).

To counter this imbalance and provide professionalism with a career structure and job security, most professionals in health and social services work in large formal organisation (Alcock, 2000) The majority of roles advertised by social services usually refer to ‘caring’ such as ‘social care’, ‘community care’ and ‘residential care’. However, such language could be said to be a concept associated with women and adapted from ‘natural’ role they adopt during childbirth and afterwards (Cree, 2003). Women are brought up to believe that caring for others is a fundamental part of their existence (Powell & Hewitt, 2002).

This argument suggests that there are fundamental differences between men and women. Women are said to be emotional and caring so are more associated with the humanistic types of work such as undertaking the physical care of a person (Sharkey, 2000). Whereas, men are considered to be less emotional, hold authority and power, whereby management is seen as a natural course within their career (Jones, 2003). It has been further suggested that assumptions of being a successful manger, or similar status jobs, is based largely on male behaviour (Malin, 2000). However, a study of research undertaken on leadership styles by Malin (2000) found that women were similar to men in terms of leadership styles and therefore just as suitable to be managers. Any differences found were said to be qualities such as feelings and emotions, that organisations may need more of this in the future (Means et al, 2003).

However, despite there being similarities in leadership style, for women who seek a management post, their ‘feelings’ and ’emotions’ represent a block. Women are expected to undertake the more emotional caring tasks, whereas men are perceived to be more suitable to the ‘macho’ task of management (Yeates, 2001). Advertisements for management posts reflect this attitude, with a notable absence of references to ‘caring’. Designed to reflect the status of the post, usually include language such as ‘target’. ‘analytical’, ‘objectivity’, ‘determination’, placing importance on salary, related packages, expectations to work outside normal hours and high status (Zinn, 2008). It could be argued, management positions that are advertised using language that is bureaucratic and ‘masculine’ in their approach are designed specifically to attract able bodied white men (Jones-Devitt & Smith, 2007).

It could be argued, the very nature of the job specification only serves to exclude and further marginalise women. This is synonymous with the ‘glass ceiling’ phenomenon, whereby women face obstacles when moving into management such as dominant male attitudes and culture, discrimination and women’s own expectations (Carney, 2006). Subsequently, this presents several fundamental problems for women. The policies and procedures of organisations are being managed by men to benefit men, important decisions are undertaken by men and women suffer discrimination, women’s skills and abilities are not being utilised (Clarke, 2004).

It is important to understand, however that for many women workers within social care they are already victims of abuse of power, at work and home, as carers of the system and by individuals. For example studies of gender abuse, have found abusers are overwhelmingly men (Moonie, 2004). It could be argued ‘that the abuse of power is part of the fabric of women’s lives (Glasby & Littlewood 2009).

According to Moonie (2004) men are the very group who perpetrate most of the abuse which result in individuals requiring social services intervention, are themselves in positions of power, such as managers, within organisation. For example in 1991 a number of men who held positions of responsibility within care homes were found guilty of physical and sexual abuse of children in their care (Zinn, 2008). It could be argued; therefore it is not possible for a group of people to make sound decisions regarding victims of abuse, if they themselves abuse their power.

Therefore, if women are to challenge this abuse of power, they need to be given equal access to management; therefore human resource policies should facilitate this. Women are brought up to believe a fundamental part of their role is to care; they have the advantage of trying to juggle home life with work life (Yeates, 2001). Work/life balance policies, flexible working, part time working and crèche facilities are some responses to enabling women to participate as men do. According to Zin (2008) these responses are a solution invented by men aimed specifically for ‘women’ under the guise of ‘equal opportunities’. This only serves to reinforce male and female stereotypes (Miller, 2004).

Furthermore, management posts are not always included in such equal opportunity policies and therefore, likely to exclude a higher proportion of women from management. Although arguably, a change in retention and recruitment policies to enable women to become managers is important to facilitate this, it could be further argued, a change in attitude and culture regarding gender roles is more fundamental (Powell & Hewitt, 2002). Women it seems are acceptable management material if they are the same as men and unsuitable if they differ.

A workforce study undertaken by the National Institute for Social Work found workplace attitudes to be reflective of society ‘a third of staff surveyed reported incidents of racism from colleagues and managers, with 45% reporting such behaviour from service users and their relatives (Jones-Devitt & Smith, 2007). Feminists argue that a focus on structural change and a challenge of dominant male assumptions is the way forward if attitudes are to change (Jones, 2003). Furthermore, it could be argued the structure of social services only serves to reinforce the attitude of women as carers. For example residential workers, home care assistants, care worker, roles usually undertaken by women (Adams et al, 2009).

Therefore, a removal from dominant patriarchal attitudes appears to be a long way off. Theories of how organisations structures functions are broadly male dominated and further serve to reinforce the ideology of management (Cochrane, 2001). As a result the structures and processes of social work within social services are also basically ‘masculine’. The hierarchical principles and management of social services departments are associated with ‘pyramidal’ structure of authority and control (Cochrane, 2001). It could be argued, this supports the view that patriarchal values remain embedded within organisations but interestingly, conflict with the ‘caring’ role of social welfare organisation.

An organisation with a ‘flatter’ structure where there is no hierarchy, but each person takes on a specific role for the benefit of the organisation and the client, is more synonymous with the ‘caring’ aspect of social work. Also that of a feminist theory, whereby organisations take a ‘collective’ approach (Scott, 2004). This type of organisational structure can be seen within smaller voluntary organisations (Clarke, 2004). Organisations such as social services are structured within a more bureaucratic, hierarchical style. Clarke (2004) believed that where there were high numbers of employed staff, it was necessary to initiate rules and procedures within a clear line of command. As a result of this masculine model of organisational structure, policies, consciously or subconsciously, reinforce the idea that gender differences are a product of nature rather than social construction (Yeates, 2001).

Once a person becomes a manager, their effectiveness is dependent on several factors including style. Yeates (2001) introduced the ‘scientific’ management approach. It required workers to undertake tasks in a specific way in an attempt to make organisations rational, studying how management methods could effectively control the workers in other words, how to find the most efficient ways of doing a job (Scott, 2001). This appears to fit with bureaucratic mechanisms within a large social welfare organisation.

In contrast Deacon (2002) considered the importance people make within organisations and identified a ‘humanistic’ approach to management. He believed the behaviour of people produced an ‘informal structure’ which influenced how an organisation functioned, which in turn influenced which management methods should be adopted (Deacon, 2002). Clarke (2004) argues that managers can adopt interpersonal approaches and be open and honest showing ‘their real feelings’ rather than adopting an authoritarian approach by checking up on staff.

This method seems compatible to work within social care, rather than the ‘masculine’ traits traditionally associated with management styles (Bauld et al, 2000). It could be argued, however that management is a balance of the two, a combination of problem solving, such as case management, organising the department, resources etc, and affective interpersonal skills. Within male dominated environments, this balance can be difficult to achieve (Powell & Hewitt, 2002).

For women managers, to show a ‘caring’ side could be perceived as ‘weak’. If a woman adopts a male approach she is considered aggressive. She is seen as different and not compatible with what is the perceived norm (Brechin et al, 2000). In some cases, adopting the ‘male style of management and fitting the ‘culture of masculinism’ can produce a negative and unproductive style of management for example women mangers not approving of mothers who have children pursuing a career (Bradshaw, 2004). For some this may not pose a problem, having wanted and being able to gain a senior management position. For others, they have felt in order to survive it has been necessary to adopt the male style of management but do not to notice it any more.(Dominelli, 2004) This means women are pressured to join prevailing norms, if they want to avoid being different (Deacon, 2002).

Statutory provision within social care could be said to support this argument. child protection work is considered a controlling aspect of social work, which fits with the controlling aspects of management (Payne, 2005). Interestingly enough, this is synonymous with the community care framework and the concepts of ‘care mangers’. Tibbs (2001) argues this is another strand in the ‘masculinsation’ of management within social services. However, the values that are fundamental to the caring role for the client within social services is not necessarily transferred into the values of management of care as management becomes increasingly bureaucratic and procedural (Nazarko, 2004).

Furthermore, tasks that consider the care of the customers and staff are essential within an environment that requires a supporting management team (Jones-Devitt & Smith, 2007). Women’s contribution should be widely recognised if such a service is implemented. Work undertaken by Bradshaw (2004) found organisations that are managed by people who believe in the potential of workers and customers, produces ‘excellent’ organisations. This language appears to be intrinsic within the modern social services department, whereby ‘best value’, ‘quality protect’ and ‘performance indicators’ underpins government’s strategy for improving services and working environments (Glasby & Littlechild, 2009).

This philosophy on caring is further emphasised by ‘awarding’ star ratings for local authorities for providing high quality services. Within this philosophy of ‘caring’ environment, it is likely that more women would be attracted to management posts and take part in the organisations ‘quest for excellence’ (Killick & Allan, 2001). Moonie (2004) indicates women managers have much to offer the organisation since the emergence of ‘customer care’ and ‘total quality management’. Although Miller (2004) suggests this simply is a political move, under the guise of community care legislation, a way of meeting resource demands and residualing services.

As a result of the ‘market’ of care, ‘consumerism’ and ‘competition’, there is pressure for local authorities to become more ‘business like’ (Deacon, 2002). Senior managers are now recruited from the ‘commercial’ arena where it appears, they know nothing about social care. With the emergence of ‘business’ management posts and the values and models that underpin those of a commercial organisation, such as ‘marketing strategies’ and ‘performance indicators’, bureaucratic procedures and control increases (Jones, 2003).

Nevertheless in an organisation’s ‘quest for excellence’ women managers could prove invaluable. Tibbs (2001) argues that women managers will have a tendency to put issues of staff care, such as support and supervision above administration. Leadership or management within a group is central to the function of facilitating organisation or group effectiveness and performance (Payne, 2000). Therefore a manager who is humanistic in their approach, it seems is able to meet current government policy with regards to welfare provision (Miller, 2004).

Looking for the impact of effective leadership in more detail it is necessary to consider the concept of leadership and also the role of the manager in supervision (Carney, 2006). Leadership can be performed at an informal level within the team or at an organisational level (Butcher, 2006). Research into leadership by Carney (2006) established that satisfaction and group effectiveness can be affected by the type of leadership within the group (Carney, 2006). Although, Cochrane (2006) proposes that leadership roles vary according to the ‘managed’ level within the organisation. According to Cree (2003) the most important element is ‘influence’ and that leadership suggests a process of group support, goal achievement and group contentment.

To understand leadership, it is necessary to understand the distinctions between managed and leadership, Deacon (2002) argues ‘to be an effective manager it is necessary to exercise the role of ‘leadership’. Considering this, leadership is not necessarily just a function of a formal manager but acts of leadership by a person who has specific leadership qualities (Bradshaw, 2004). For example a manager is said to have continually co-ordinate and balance in order to compromise conflicting values (Powell & Hewitt, 2002). Whereas leaders, may work in but can be said not to belong to an organisation. They are able to consider what events and actions mean and express empathy with other people. (Jones-Devitt & Smith, 2007). It could be argued women’s attributes are compatible with the philosophy of empathy and consideration for others (Glasby & Littlechild, 2009). Cree (2003) suggests that leadership styles are more effective and more consistent with the type of humanistic management that social work requires.

Supervision is an also an arena where women, it could be said function better than men (Moonie, 2004). Women maybe more able to empathise and discuss an individuals issues and concerns. However it could be argued this may be too simplistic. According to Miller (2004) not all women may be able to undertake effective supervision, whereas there may be male managers that are equally as capable of adopting a ‘humanistic’ style of supervision. Payne (2000) suggests that regardless of what attributes that can be brought to supervision there are areas of supervision which may hinder team work and professional development. Supervision may be unavailable due to time restrictions, the abuse of power such as withholding information or asserting negative control, a lack of feeling supported particularly as managers are not in touch with service users lives (Tibbs, 2001).

Certain leadership styles may determine how effective supervision is for team members and supports Adams (2003) view of discrepancies in supervision. Social services departments have a history of retention and recruitment and this reflects in inconsistent management (Thompson, 2002). For example, regardless of gender differences, some managers work in a democratic way, consistent with the humanistic approach (Sharkey, 2000). However others may adopt a more authoritative supervision process. This can have the effect of controlling or obstructing team members as a result of asserting authority or power over decision making (Carney, 2006). Subsequently, this can leave managers with high levels of dissonance within the team, which in turn, affects the effectiveness of the team (Jones-Devitt & Smith, 2007).

Butcher (2006) indicates the supervision process can become a ‘management tool of accountability’ but suggests it can be also be used as a tool to improve personal and professional development and practice. If supervision is to encourage personal satisfaction and encourage group cohesiveness and effectiveness, it should ‘go below the surface’ in the analysis of problems and situation’ (Adams et al, 2009). It could be argued a feeling of being listened to and heard can only serve to increase team moral and performance. In turn effective supervision can be used as a tool for negotiation, problem-solving and more importantly learning (Adams et al, 2009).

Women managers could use supervision to make their own individual mark on the workforce without the need of ‘masculine’ formal systems and practices (Butcher, 2006). By paying attention to things that matter to people which are often neglected such as enquiring about the progress of a problem or a staff member needs to leave work on time to meet childcare commitments (Bradshaw, 2004). As mentioned, this method of working can develop team moral and performance, such as effective team and collaborative working. Facilitating teams to work collectively together to identify areas of organisational improvements and service delivery, it could be argued is considered a necessary requirement of professional workers within social services (Brechin et al, 2000).

The ‘caring’ strand of management means women are at an advantage when it comes to utilising these skills in management, in particular women are brought up to think about other peoples needs to empathise and listen (Zinn, 2008). Indeed it is not to be said that the caring tasks should be done by women alone only to validate the skills women bring to the role of manager, through their perceived roles as carers (Scott, 2001).

In terms of operational planning, women managers are able to influence the situation and bring along new understanding of management for both men and women, rather than the traditional methods (Bauld et al, 2000). Instead of an aggressive style, an assertive style will allow individuals to stand up for themselves. People can manage in a supportive way in order to empower and obtain consensus rather than conflict (Thompson, 2002). Patriarchal norms and men’s way of behaving does not have to be considered the norm. It could be said, women should be taken seriously without having to ‘act’ like men (Alcock, 2000). Both men and women can validate the ‘caring’ side of managing within social services, recognising both work and personal commitments. This is increasingly evident for social workers within social services; managers appear to be more responsive to the ‘holistic’ needs of staff (Banks, 2001). Moonie (2004) suggests it is difficult to determine whether there has been a genuine commitment of the organisation towards recognising workers needs or the fact that the majority of ‘middle’ managers consist of mainly women who are generally more sympathetic in their approach. Payne, (2000) outlines it could also be political, due to the nature of the work within statutory social services, has inevitably led to recruitment and retention crisis, whereby this needs to be effectively managed if standards are to be maintained.

Power can be used in an ethical and caring way to empower both clients and workers. Paying more attention to the abuse of power, workers must limit their use of ‘controlling power’ (Glasby & Littlechild, 2009). Women can learn to understand power and be less afraid and use it more directly. Managers can use power in positive ways, such as implementing equal opportunity policies (Carney, 2006).

Caring itself should be challenged as a concept. No longer synonymous with women’s work, it should be constructed as a role that all people can undertake, a skill to be learnt by both men and women (DoH, 1999). Women can stop automatically undertaking the caring jobs. This in turn will serve to change the attitudes and perceptions society has of specific gender roles. Finally government legislation should be strengthened and include enhanced equal opportunity laws and substantial improvements to maternity benefit and leave. Carney (2006) argues that underpinning all policy are principles that men should also be responsible for childcare and that childcare should be publicly funded and community based and most importantly there should be a balance between family life and paid work and leisure activities.

Social work is a changing profession dominated by men, who make policies for an essentially controlling activity (Dominelli, 2004). However social services have a culture of ‘caring’ whereby the majority, which are women, are committed to this ethos. It could be argued that women endeavour to support this caring ethic and are challenging a patriarchal structure by using good human relationship skills and attention to quality of service.


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