Podcast Episode: Women in social work education
Category: Social work (general)
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
VC - Viv Cree
MM - Mary Mitchell
You’re listening to Iriss.fm, Scotland’s social services podcast. On the 24th of October, Iriss attended ‘Navigating Troubled Waters: Women in Social Work Education in Scotland’ seminar where we heard from Emeritus Professor Viv Cree and Dr Mary Mitchell about a study funded by the Carnegie UK Trust which began with the realisation that women in the Academy fare less well than men across all disciplines. They are less likely to be promoted, they earn less pay and that they are much less likely to become professors. What this means for the discipline of social work education is explored here.
VC Welcome one and all. It’s great to have you here. Now we were aware in preparing this seminar this afternoon that this is one of these occasions where there may well be people who took part in the survey or who were interviewed as part of the project who are here in the audience, so we’re just kind of thanking you again for your contribution in our work and also being sensitive to that in the conversation that we have. So what we’re going to do is I’m going to talk for a bit. I’m Viv Cree, now Emeritus Professor of Social Work Studies at the University of Edinburgh, still working fairly flat-out, at least until the end of October. I was the Principle Investigator on this project for reasons which will become obvious in a few moments. Our team was made up of myself, Jackie Gulland who’s actually at a research meeting in the school at the moment and will be joining us shortly, Mary Mitchell who’s here, and Fiona Morrison from the University of Stirling now but was at Edinburgh when she started in this project with us. So what we’re going to do is I’m going to introduce the first slides, Mary’s going to introduce the interviews because Mary actually conducted all the interviews so she’s a good person to talk us through those slides, and then we’re going to come back to me at the end just for the final thoughts, and we’re expecting it’ll take about forty-five minutes allowing about half an hour for questions and answers. So if there’s anything you don’t understand or you want to ask about along the way please for goodness sake stick your hand up. We’re a small group, we can have a conversation. It doesn’t need to be a formal event. Our study aimed to find out more about the position of women in the Social Work Academy. It began with the realisation that women working as lecturers and researchers in universities across the board fare less well than men across all disciplines. They’re less likely to be promoted, they earn less and they’re much less likely to be professors. Now we all know that. This is the picture that we’re very familiar with, and what we wanted to know was okay, if that’s the picture across the board what’s the picture in a discipline like social work which is always, really from its early days had many, many, many more women academics and arguably a more woman-centred kind of approach. So we wanted to know does social work mirror or contrast with the global picture, and what lessons might be learned to inform policy and practice in higher education in the future. So we thought that social work education in Scotland, which is a relatively small group with only eight universities providing social work education and training, could help us to answer some of these questions. We approached Carnegie Trust and secured funding under its Incentive Grant Scheme. So again, thank you very much Carnegie Trust for supporting this work. We’re going to inevitably write journal papers which will kind of hone in on particular themes, relationships will be one of them, but actually today what I’m going to do or we’re going to try to do is give you a picture of the whole study. In other words, a big picture study, and we’ll develop the themes in subsequent journal articles. So we used a mixed method case study of social work education in Scotland using four main methods, literature review covering a vast amount of literature which all of us here will be familiar with some of this if not all of this, and I’m not going to go into it all today because there isn’t time, but it was the context. There’s been a massive amount of work been already done about women, and women in higher education in particular, touching on all these different areas. From that data collection we went on to look at building a demographic profile of the Social Work Academy in Scotland. We conducted an online survey of women and men, social work academics, and we conducted qualitative interviews with women social work academics who’d held leadership roles now or in the past. So I’m going to talk you through a little bit about all of these things, but first the research team. So we’re four women at different stages in our careers and family lives, and as I’ve said here this is where I have to admit my first ever journal article published in 1997 in the ‘Journal of Social Work Education’ was called ‘Surviving on the Inside’. ‘Surviving on the Inside: Reflections on being a woman and a feminist in an ancient Scottish university’, aka the University of Edinburgh obviously, and I think it’s really amazing twenty years on to actually reflect on the kind of issues that I was writing about in 1997 and the kind of issues that we’re experiencing today, and maybe that’s one for Q&A is actually to do that comparison. Because of my position in the Social Work Academy in Scotland I was actually one of the interviewees, which again is rather unusual to be an interviewee and a Principle Investigator, but the team felt that my experience was too important not to include in the study. It would have actually been less rich if it hadn’t been there, so it’s there, but I have to say we all had experience of what we were writing about or what we were researching, and that is definitely something we want to write about because it was every single one of our lives and working lives and home lives that we were hearing about and we were reflecting on. So more about this in the future. The literature review, as I’ve said we can’t possibly delve into everything here today. This is just a cover of the four different topics that we looked at. This just grows for me all the time, including last night where I was reading this most amazing book about women in social science some of you may know which suggests that instead of being a rags to riches story we’ve actually got a riches to rags story. Now my goodness, is that not interesting to think about, because actually in the early days of social science it was all women and it was all upper class women, and so was a whole other discussion to be had about this. I really like this riches to rags story as women were squeezed out of prominent positions in universities. So, moving swiftly on. The demographic profile of the Social Work Academy at October 2017. This was actually surprisingly difficult to get. You’d think this information would be really easy but it wasn’t and we had to hassle on a number of occasions to get it, but what you’ve got here is eight universities employing a hundred and thirty-five academic staff. Fifty-eight percent were women and forty-two percent were men. Now interestingly across social work and social policy most recent statistics women made up sixty-four point five percent of all academic posts, and men thirty-five point five percent of academic posts. So that tells you that actually our experience in Scotland is better or worse, depending on how you see it it’s slightly different, but actually what we’ve got is still predominantly there are more women than men across the board in social policy and social work, and certainly in social work in Scotland. However, ten social work professors in Scotland, only four of whom were women in the census point, and that’s actually important to think about as well. Researcher posts were predominantly but not exclusively held by women. There were some men who’d chosen to be researchers. It was much more likely for those posts to be held by women. So that was the kind of big picture of Scotland, then we carried out an online survey. Now the online survey we originally envisaged as something that would only target women academics and we realised that since the whole sample was only a hundred and thirty-five actually we needed to hear from men as well. It gave us a bigger picture but it also gave us something to compare and contrast in terms of women’s experience, and people from across the board filled in the online survey. Forty-six people in total, which is thirty-four percent of the total number of academics which actually is okay for an online survey, but you have to bear in mind the minute you start putting this into percentages some of the percentages will be quite small. However, we found no gender differences in terms of the academic backgrounds. What we mean by that is similar numbers of women and men had PHDs. Similar numbers of women and men had come from work backgrounds before coming to the university, and both women and men carried out a range of work. So it wasn’t the case that all, as I expected, practise learning posts were held by women. That wasn’t the case. The findings from the online survey, the first thing that happened and this was absolutely striking, this is where gender differences start to appear the REF submission. The REF, for those people who aren’t aware is the last research assessment exercise which the government organises as a way of deciding how much money to give to universities. Not all staff are submitted in not all universities. That certainly was the case last time around. I understand it’s not going to be the same next time. So that’s the case last time, and twenty-three women said their work was not submitted last time as compared with only two men. That’s a big discrepancy. So we need to actually understand that a bit more. I think that requires a bit more work. It may have been partly due to age and stage of the people completing the questionnaires. There’s lots of reasons but it’s certainly a striking difference. Six women said they’d experienced gender-based discrimination. No men said so. Although women liked their jobs overall fifty-six percent said the work was not manageable in their paid hours. Forty-two percent of men agreed, and it’s when you start discovering the, speaking about home life balance that this becomes more apparent still with over a third of women feeling their home work balance was not satisfactory, only twenty-five percent of men agreeing with that statement, and seventy-one percent of women had or had had caring responsibilities alongside work compared with only forty-two percent of men. So we’ve got in spite of shared backgrounds gender differences, and striking in key areas. The numbers of men who took part in the sample remember were small, so there may be some statistical reasons why this looks as stark as it does. Nevertheless, the differences are there and the open questions on the survey really do begin to tease out a bit further what people felt about it. So the open questions. There’s a gap between rhetoric and reality. Lots of universities say things and what happens on the ground can be different. Lots of noise but no real action. That’s a bit damning really on what universities are trying to do. The impact of caring responsibilities especially on women, more than one person said, “We don’t have a family friendly timetable.” There’s absolutely no doubt that actually trying to manage, to only have meetings during hours which are school hours, you know, the ten to four kind of time, do we really do that? I can see a smile or two around the room. When do seminars happen? This one is happening during work hours but seminars often happen after work hours or at the end of the day, and is that difficult for women who still today tend to take more of a burden in terms of the caring responsibilities, more of the load, but, you know, I think the other thing which really came across for us in this study was the work culture in academia, and over-performing and long hour culture creates gender inequality. Now that is absolutely, you know, if we’re all competing with ourselves and each other all of the time, if it never stops what does that feel like if you’ve got another job out with work to manage alongside? So part-time work never actually involving part-time hours, and the important one here, international conferences can be difficult for carers. Now we all know that, but actually if you arrange promotion on the basis of things like attendance at conferences, if that’s something that ticks brownie points, “You’ve done that”, it’s actually really difficult if you can’t play the game, and it is a game. So we also asked people, because the whole focus of this was let’s have a look at what works, what helps, what might actually make things better for people, and this list includes all the things which all of us involved in gender groups in universities will understand and be familiar with, but it’s actually making these things happen. So a culture of working within core hours. I liked that, a commitment to an authentic academia, one that demonstrates commitment to the welfare of its staff. We would all sign up to everything here, but actually the evidence from this group of people who completed the surveys is that we’re not going far enough yet. So at that point I’m going to hand over to Mary who’s going to talk us through the interviews.
MM So I undertook the interviews with the fifteen senior academic women. We had a wide range of different women from a diversity of backgrounds. There were eight who were retired paid academics who had been paid academic working people in Scotland. Seven were currently working in senior positions in Scotland. So there was kind of a broad generational issue as well, and time in the Academy. There were seven different universities that people have worked in. So we had people who had come from Edinburgh, Dundee, Open University, Stirling, Robert Gordon, Strathclyde and Glasgow at various different stages in their career. So while there was a small number of people there was a broad range of people across the universities. They gave us quite detailed and complex stories and narratives about their academic journey. So when we talked it kind of went between forty-five minutes to about an hour and a half, and we talked about their pathway into academia, what their experiences were while they were academics and their feelings about their career, what worked and what helped them as academic women, senior academics. I just want to say that there was a real need to not talk about them particularly in any great detail about the minutiae of who these women were because actually it’s a small number of women who could be potentially, their level of confidentiality needs to be upheld. So I’ll give you a little bit of a detail about what we actually found within the findings, and they were correlated quite well I think with the survey material that became earlier. All of the women talked about the challenges of the professional discipline of social work kind of not being valued within academia both within the subject area. They often talked about the subject not being understood by the other academics and other schools within their universities. They all talked very strongly about social work practice being really important to them as individuals, that they actually helped them very much in the work as leaders and as team members in academia. So I’ll give you a couple of quotes about some of those. “I think perhaps the vocational programmes like social work were maybe not as high in academic status as other academic subjects and I think we had to work quite hard to raise our profile too. It’s that thing about having to work twice as hard to get the same level of other academic subjects.” So there’s the kind of sense that social work is a poor cousin in some ways within the academic institutions. Secondly I think people talked about the culture of academic institutions. It was very much about the individualisation of academia which is in some ways in contrast to how social work works in teamwork and collectively. So it’s probably much more individualistic than what I was used to from being in practice. There’s the potential here for being very individualised, coming in to further your own career, and this particular interviewee said that men were much more assertive in this area, that they were much more able to be assertive about being individualistic and moving towards focussing their career, and the idea of administration and support for other team members seemed to be less with men because they are much more assertive to be very focussed about their careers. So the majority of interviewees kind of talked about their social work skills as I said. It was very transferable and it was actually something that they talked really openly and very positively about the skills that they’d gained their social workers in their practice and how they could transfer those into their work as academics. So they talked about kind of getting beside people, being strength-based in their approach to leadership, seeing the possibility of change in both the institution and the teams that they were working in, having a strong value base which included a strong social justice and rights based approach so that they had a sense that they were actually doing good things and actually making change happen within social work academia, and that seemed a very important motivator for many of the women that I spoke to. They said that the problem solving skills that they had from practice transferred very easily within the problem solving that they needed required as leaders within the Academy, and the sense of multidisciplinary and partnership working was a real strength in the sense of that leadership moving from lectureship into senior lecturers and professorships and other kind of institutional and schoolwide activities. Further on we talked about the women really to be successful needed to be visible, okay? So they need to be seen. There was a lot of talk with many of the women about facing outwards from their school of social work out to the broader university and out to the broader world in academia, but also inwards to the team. So there was a need for both to be seen within the team and outwards, and that seemed to be a strength and an importance for these women to actually succeed. Networks of support, particularly among women, peers, mentors, colleagues, partners, female role models, their male colleagues, was really vital for women to succeed as academics and move up the career ladder, but as Viv very much was clearly stating earlier the caring responsibilities were there as well, and they needed to balance that enormously. So women still take primary care roles with children and parents, and that has an enormous impact on whether women decide to actually go for promotion or whether it slows the pace of their promotion, and again the impact of managerialism and on the Academy about this, it’s a really individualistic and competitive process which men seem to be much more assertive with, seems to impact women in a different way. So I thought I’d give you some quotes about that. “If you want to progress your Academy career you need to make a very firm commitment to giving up a lot of your family time for work. That makes me make a choice in the other direction, and that’s the issue. I think there is more that institutions can do. I think what the university or the Academy needs to do is it needs to address the contradiction of research is something to do in your own time.” So the interviewee is talking very much about women progressing within lectureships and senior fellows is actually the idea that you need to be doing research and you need to be very active, as people talked about the international concept of that and the need to be seen internationally, and yet actually the choices that women make is actually very often about being in the home and taking those care responsibilities, and that has a big impact on leadership and the capacity to take on leadership roles.
VC Thank you very much Mary. So to conclude. To answer a research question, we actually concluded that the experience of social work academic women seems no different to that of other academics. The Social Work Academy is not a protected space. On the contrary it’s a difficult space because of the Academy’s ambivalent relationship with social work, and I think to understand that fully you really do have to understand the historical. I’m looking at Sarah now, Sarah Henning in the back row there is doing her PHD on social work education history, and there is absolutely no doubt that this is a historical question that we need to understand historically. There has been some progress but it’s insecure progress. So that really came across that actually from the survey and from the interviews that it felt a bit like two steps forward and three steps back. It didn’t feel as if we were fully sure of where we were with this. Social work academics and women academics in particular place a lot of store on co-working and relationships, but career progression in university seems to place most value on individual achievements. So again this is a point for universities to think about. It’s a hard one that in terms of how you actually deal with that, and there’s no doubt that women’s caring still impacts their work disproportionately. What happens in the world outside is inevitably reflected in academia, and this is one I think is really tricky and I would welcome a conversation with you all about, because it seems to me that having spent all of my life trying to say, “I reject the idea of women are this and men are that”, and this kind of idea of are we talking ourselves into a box by saying that caring is predominantly a women’s responsibility, and should we be actually trying to get out of the box rather than talking ourselves into the box, but if that is the reality then what are institutions doing to actually support that and allow women to do as well as they should be doing? So it’s something I hope we’ll talk about. So looking ahead, it’s not enough for a few bright starts to shine. They fade and nothing changes. It’s this, you know, we can have one or two people who do extraordinarily well but actually what changes for the bulk of people, and that’s clearly an issue. It can’t be down to individuals to succeed or fail. It’s actually too much. It’s too much on the individuals and it’s not good for anybody else either. There needs to be real institutional support for a different kind of work life balance, a more realistic family friendly healthy Academy, and students will benefit from this too, and maybe that’s where we should be going with this whole conversation in my view. Also I think the Social Work Academy needs to do more to tell the wider Academy what it offers. So all this stuff about practice, everything we’ve heard about social works strong commitment to agencies and to practice is something that the university wants. It wants it now, right now. It’s called impact, and somehow or other we need to just be clear that’s what we’re doing. So the Civic Commission of the university is, you know, I said last Thursday at the Joint University Council for Social Studies’ hundredth year birthday party I said in London that I think social work is the conscience of the university, and what might that mean and how might we actually take that forward? None of these issues are new. They’ve been rehearsed again and again over the years. I started with the riches to rags story in terms of women in social work training. I’m really interested to know what you all make of all of this, so thank you very much indeed. Thank you.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License