“Social work is women's work, right?” Amplifying the voices of male social work students entering into a female majority occupation: applying qualitative methods.
Authors: Galley, D.
The background to this research study concerns a renewed interest in explaining the dearth of men now engaged in social work training, which has been of concern to social work regulatory bodies. Statistics from the former professional body for social work in England, the General Social Care Council, suggests that 77% of registered social workers in 2010 were female (GSCC, 2010). According to Parker and Ashencaen-Crabtree (2012), which this study seeks to expand upon, a similar disparity is mirrored in the United States of America, where the proportion of male social work graduates in 1960 was 43% decreasing to 15% in 2000. Their work however, does not evaluate why the gender disparity is proportioned in this way.
Social work is not a traditionally male occupation and there is a paucity of research which gives voice to the experiences of male social work students (MSWSs). This timely study seeks to amplify their voice and add to a body of in-depth research where reasons for their limited numbers might be explored; thereby illuminating some reasons for their scarcity.
The research was grounded in qualitative methodology which included over-arching ethnographic principles and methods. Participants in the study comprised thirty-four MSWSs across six universities in the UK. In order to understand their perspectives and experiences, Bourdieusian and Intersectional lenses were used. Theories of gender, power, intersectionality and capital were employed to explain the issues and challenges identified by the study participants.
In addition to promoting the voice of MSWSs, the study presents strategies to encourage a greater gender balance within UK social work qualifying programmes and suggests areas for further research in this field of study. This research therefore contributes to, and updates, the existing literature and narrative concerning men as a minority in social work.
Key findings identify that motivations for MSWS to enter into the profession, centred on three broad factors: familial background; previous life experience; and a change in career. Gay and bi-sexual men can gravitate towards a career in social work as they feel congruent with the profession’s ethics and values. There appears a need for increased exploration of ‘gender’ within the feminised pedagogy of social work. In addition, fully funded fast-track qualifying routes appear more accessible to males than traditional entry routes. What remains however is a lack of perceived status and professionalism inherent in the title ‘Worker’.