Social work leaders’ lack of diversity out of step with workforce

Data obtained by Adult Principal Social Workers' network also raises questions about embedding of social work values within council hierarchies

Photo: Gajus/Fotolia

Senior adult social care management positions are disproportionately filled by white people, with men also over-represented, according to research by the Adult Principal Social Workers’ Network.

Responses by 124 councils to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests showed 90.4% of senior local authority adult social care managers and board members identified as White British. A report by the network said the findings were particularly shocking when set against regional figures that reveal black and minority ethnic (BME) people make up between 17% and 59% of workforces.

“Furthermore, these are figures that do not reflect the very communities and societies that social care strives to work alongside,” the report stated.

Men are also over-represented among senior managers and board members, with FOI responses revealing a 61/39% female to male split. The social care workforce as a whole is 82% female.

Knowledge base

The report identified similar issues among principal social workers (PSWs), with a recent survey by the network finding that 87.3% of PSWs identified as White British, “with a span of ethnicity only covering three BME groups”. The gender split among PSWs was 76/23% female to male.

As well as looking at diversity, the research asked questions about the number of board members and senior managers who had social work qualifications.

The FOI responses showed that just 43.7% did, although a majority of these appeared to be directors of adult services. “What was less clear…was whether these senior managers had retained the HCPC registration and by default their CPD and evidence base to practice,” the report said.

The research also found that almost half (46%) of PSWs were not deemed to be senior managers, nor sat on any boards.

This seems to be of “significant concern”, given Care Act guidance, the report stated. “While you can still advise the director without being part of this setup, the ability of the PSW to lead and influence across complex systems would be significantly hindered.”

The Care Act statutory guidance states: “All local authorities should ensure principal social workers are given the credibility, authority and capacity to provide effective leadership and challenge, both at managerial and practitioner level and are given sufficient time to carry out their role. The principal social worker should also be visible across the organisation, from elected members and senior management, through to frontline social workers, people who use services and carers. Local authorities should therefore ensure that the role is located where it can have the most impact and profile.”

‘Stark’ picture

Mark Harvey, principal social worker for adults at Hertfordshire council and co-chair of the adult PSW network, described the findings as “stark”.

“It highlights a problem that social work and social care leaders mustn’t shy aware from. We need for the sector to accept there is an issue, potentially an institutional, one and act.” This was also true for the adult PSW network, Harvey said.

“Our challenge to the sector is that it needs to support across all areas an honest, open conversation with a concerted effort to address these issues,” Harvey added. “A real challenge must be set for local authorities and trusts to ensure senior management and leaders reflect both their social work and social care workforce and more crucially the people they serve.”

Kate Terroni, workforce development network lead at the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), said: “Councils value a diverse workforce and encourage and promote equality in all staffing decisions, including in adult social care. The sector needs to ensure that it draws leadership talent from as diverse a pool as it can.”

Terroni added that ADASS welcomed a “broad spectrum” of skills within leadership roles – including the likes of nurses and finance experts as well as social workers – in order to ensure a “breadth of perspective” in managing social care.

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2 Responses to Social work leaders’ lack of diversity out of step with workforce

  1. Katie Politico October 24, 2017 at 10:57 am #

    In my experience of having recently worked in a southern LA senior managers never leave. They are not open to innovation and are oppressive in their practice. This is mirrored by social workers who appear to have an unconscious class-bias that influences, often negatively, their practice with predominantly working class clients. Compared with the number of LAs I have practiced in in London I found the white middle class atmosphere stifling and stuck. Whilst it is inevitable that LAs in rural areas will not have the experience of working with diversity, when this particular LA was faced with clients from different ethnic backgrounds the lack of sensitivity to cultural difference was disturbing and more disturbing was the lack of curiosity or reflection.

  2. Jak Pugh October 26, 2017 at 12:56 pm #

    Sadly, the contextual message of the article does not come as a surprise to me. In the last decade or so the mantra has been to adopt evidence based practises (EBP), which is both logical and essential to avoid stagnation of practises – hence the need for Social Work reform. However, EBP should not focus on the practise delivery to service users; but must also apply to the practises of the decision makers (leaders). In other words, a double loop process must also be enforced, rather than the traditional and systematic employment of single loop organisational policies and procedures especially deployed at entry level into the Social Work profession.
    I am not disputing that Social Work is a skilled profession and thus a robust point of entry must be applied. However, this methodology cannot be so rigid that it does not reflect the changing environment of the society it serves. An example, is my recent enquiry about the eligibility criteria for the Think Ahead Mental Health Social Worker programme (core funding from the Department of Health). I had explained that I had not obtained both Maths or English GCSE (QCF level 2); primarily due to the fact I was only diagnosed with both dyslexia and calculus dyslexia at the age of 31, during my final degree examinations, which was over looked throughout the intervening school years. However, I do hold a BA Hons degree (QCF level 5), and in January 2018 I will complete my MSc degree programme in Healthcare Management (QCF level 7). In addition, I have built up over twenty years of extensive knowledge and experience in the areas of social housing, residential care, sexual offenders, mental health, learning difficulties, addiction, and multi-agency partnerships. My career history has solely consisted of supporting those deemed to be marginalised and vulnerable within our society.
    The response I received to my enquiry, ‘You would need a GCSE grade C in English and Maths to start the programme therefore we would recommend you complete these qualifications before July next year’; this response clearly indicates that neither my experience nor my academic or professional achievements were taken into consideration.
    I believe the rigid traditional entry requirements must also be considered within the current Social Work reform; for it is not only Think Ahead entry requirements but that too of University institutional criteria requirements. For example, the current entry requirements exclude those with learning disabilities, without having a mechanism to determine if the specific learning disability would hinder the candidate. Another example of re-thinking entry requirement can be highlighted with the new labour women MPs in the 1997 British parliament: issues of recruitment and representation; and the dissolve of height restrictions requirements of the police force – enabling increase of women police officers.
    There is still an over reliance of IQ intelligence, whereby the nature of the profession needs higher levels of emotional intelligence within the workforce. This can be achieved in broadening the entry (flexibility based upon their potential and achievements) levels to attract a diverse demographic (age, race, culture, life experience), thus, ensuring the leadership pool is reflective of the landscape (society), and not the portrait reflective of the current lack of diversity within the profession. Rather than the existing constricted requirements – which can be perceived as bordering on discrimination and elitism.
    I would be described (labelled) as being BME, and thus, I find the current trend very offensive whereby BME member’s image are often used in publications (PC promotion of the organisation’s diversity) is not a true reflection of the overall workforce – akin to an American television police dramatisation depicting black police inspectors in charge of the maverick white police detective (this is but suggestive rather than reality).