'Gender shouldn’t impact your career choices, yet over a third of young men won’t do my job' 4 months ago

'Gender shouldn’t impact your career choices, yet over a third of young men won’t do my job'

Brought to you by Frontline

'A social work team benefits from diversity'

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Even in 2022, harmful gender stereotypes continue to impact career choices for young people and men in England. New research reveals that more than 43 percent of young men aged 18-30 still believe some jobs are better suited to men and others to women, despite over half (57 percent) stating gender shouldn’t impact your career choice. 

Social work is one of the starkest examples of an industry particularly affected by gender stereotypes. According to the research conducted by children's social work charity Frontline, over a third (34 percent) of men aged 30 and under say social work is a profession best suited to women.

Edward, 27, has been a qualified social worker since 2019 and currently works in London. Having worked in a teaching role after university, he knew he wanted a career that worked with and had an impact on young people and children. But he also wanted something fast-paced and offered leadership opportunities.

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After speaking to a few social workers he believed this was the chance to a make a positive impact on not only a child’s day but also their life.

So he decided to enter social work, and qualified through Frontline's two-year salaried social work training programme in 2019. He hasn't looked back, and has worked as part of an assessment team since then.

We spoke to him about his job, the unwarranted gender stereotypes around the role, and why it's so important that more men enter the industry.

The first thing Edward mentioned? That social work certainly isn't a boring career path.

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"Everyday you can do something that’s quite surprising to you," he said. "Your work with each family means you’re doing different work every hour, and it can be really varied.

"I think when you start off in social work it takes a while to get used to what the role is, because you can do so many different things for a family. It’s full of surprises from the off, and there’s no end to what you can be faced with on a day-to-day basis."

For Edward, the wide array of skills needed to be a social worker rubbish the idea that it should be a gendered role.

Along with being an empathic role where you have to build strong relationships with people,  it’s also fast-paced, requires high-level analytical skills and can offer great career progression. Edward said these elements of the role are what need to be emphasised to attract more men to the industry.

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He explained: "Thinking about stereotypical traits of men and women, or what a ‘male’ or ‘female’ role that they might look for would be, it would probably be that men want a fast-paced, high-pressured, analytical, decision-making job. All these skills perfectly match social work.

"Social work is really high-pressured, you’re making lots of important decisions on a daily basis, you’re often sitting as the lead professional in a multi-agency setting, leading teams of experts."

Edward believes that social work is an unknown sector for so many people, which leads to many misconceptions of the role and deters men from the industry.

Nearly four in 10 (38 percent) admit the thought of going against masculine norms would discourage them from applying, and just 16 percent of young men would consider social work as a career, compared to nearly a third of women.

Whilst there are obvious skills needed for the role such as being "caring and patient" these are skills that men are just as capable of having, as Edward explained.

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He said: "These are qualities that you do need, but they’re stereotyped to be traits and skills found in women. All these traits can be found in men.

"All the men I know in social work have all those traits and excel in those skills."

For Edward, one of the appeals of social work was connecting with families and young people. He thrives off these interactions and the chance to make a difference in the lives of the people he works with.

While he admits it can be a frustrating role at times, it is this frustration that drives his desire to make positive change.

Edward emphasised how important it is that men are "better represented in social work," just like all demographics.

This is the aim of Frontline's 'This is the Work' campaign: to bring more people into social work, who represent the diverse families they work with.

For young boys and men, it can make a huge difference to them if they feel like they can relate to their social worker.

"Having a social team which is made up of people from all walks of life and backgrounds can be a real benefit, we work with such a diverse group of families it’s useful to mirror that diversity within the team," he said.

"As a man you can often be a positive male role model for children, particularly boys who have perhaps grown up in a home without a positive male role model in their lives.

"It’s an opportunity to be that person for them. That’s what I think one of my strengths is. I like working with teenagers and young people, particularly boys, because I feel like as a young man I can be quite relatable to them."

Of course, there can be a more serious side to the importance of young men and boys having a male social worker to speak to, as Edward explained.

"I have experienced a number of examples of working with perpetrators of domestic abuse who sadly appear to have worked better with me as a man as opposed to other female colleagues because of their views towards women."

"But the aim is to try and work with everyone and instil positive change in everyone, and if it means that they work best with a man because of those views then I think that’s important to do, to try and get them to start making positive changes.

"I’ve certainly had that experience where people have felt I’ve been more relatable and more understanding of their difficulties in their life."

Ultimately, Edward thinks it's vital that a social work team is as diverse as the people they are trying to help. Without more men in social work, this simply isn't possible.

However, when it comes to choosing a career path, 21 percent of men are continuing to go for careers typically perceived as masculine in sectors such as science, engineering and technology.

This is despite there appearing to be no shortage of men who could be interested in this sort of career. Research from Frontline found the majority of young men (70 percent) want a career that helps improve the lives of disadvantaged children and families, and nearly two thirds (60 percent) of men and women agree that diversifying the social work sector could improve the services they provide.

So if there was one piece of advice Edward could give to men considering a career in social work, what would it be?

"Certainly think about it," he says. "Spend a bit of time learning about the role, because it can be a very difficult job at times.

"But it’s equally amazing and rewarding. Once you spend a bit of time looking into the role, that will debunk some of the stereotypes you may have."

He continued: "No day is ever the same. At times it can be difficult to see the benefit and rewards you can get from it, but when you do notice it, and you realise you’ve made a positive impact in a child’s life, it is a really rewarding job."

And finally, has he ever experienced any difficulty or awkwardness as a male social worker?

He replied: "I’ve never found myself to be out of place or to be disadvantaged in any way by being a man, and I think as soon as you start your journey and work with your first family you begin to realise that it is a job for anyone.

"If you want a job that is fast-paced, that involves working with young people, where you’re trying to make a positive impact, then it’s definitely the job for you.

"Being a man or woman shouldn’t play into your thinking as to why you want to do it. The reason for doing it is thinking about the chance to make a positive impact. That’s the main consideration you should be making."

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