Friday 19th November is International Men's Day. Two of our current Social Work students, Kamen Finlay and Joe Burns, reflect on their experience as students entering a profession where the contribution of men is often overlooked.
Kamen Finlay: an intersectional perspective
Since beginning my career within the social care profession, I have noticed that I am always a minority in terms of being a person of colour and male. This is apparent since studying my social work degree, and I feel it may be down to the stigma society has around males and masculinity, as social work is viewed as a feminine role. There is an ideology of woman being the softer being that can show emotional vulnerability whereas men are deemed as ‘’weak’’ should they show the same emotion.
However, during my time as a male student social worker, I have had many great experiences and built many positive relationships with my clients and been able to engage the different figures within the family home. A particular case was with a family where there had been evidence of domestic abuse and alcohol misuse. The perpetrator seemed to rationalise his behaviour by normalising it and suggesting that he ‘’works hard, enjoys a drink after a long day and all men do this’’. I was able to challenge this view of masculinity by being open and honest that this was not my lived experience as a man, and I asked him to reflect on how he would feel if, for example, his daughter was subjected to domestic abuse when she grew up. This encouraged him to reflect on his actions and he agreed to seek support to change his behaviour.
I also have experience of working with a young person of colour who identifies as transgender, and as I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community and a person of colour, I was able to bring an awareness of the cultural implications and discrimination that often comes with identifying as LGBTQ+. Therefore, I have been able to build positive, respectful, and empathetic interventions with this young person and their parent through engaging them in support groups and one-to-one work.
I would encourage men to consider joining the social work profession because men can also be nurturing, warm, caring, empathetic and relatable. Social work is about supporting the most marginalised and ensuring an individual’s safety and welfare. Social workers fight against social inequalities within society, such as poverty, gender inequality, homophobia, racism etc. Therefore, by encouraging men to become social workers and share their positive experiences, we will break down the stereotypes around social work being a woman’s job role and hopefully inspire more males to choose this demanding but rewarding career.
Joe Burns: Encouraging men into social work education – A hill to climb
With under 20% of social workers in the UK identifying as male, there would appear to be a mountain to climb when it comes to encouraging more men to join the profession. This is an imbalance as old as social work itself and a statistic repeated throughout the ‘caring professions’. However, it is certainly not representative of the gender split of those requiring the support of social workers across the country, which at approximately 50/50 is far more representative of society as a whole.
I made the decision to undertake social work education at a relatively restage in my life, having done some good old-fashioned soul searching. I was unfulfilled in the job I found myself in my early 40s and, having recently become a father of two wonderful children, I began to reflect on the kind of legacy I wanted to leave from my working life. I thought about which jobs had made me happy and feel fulfilled and kept coming back to one in particular. In my late 20s I was one of two male Teaching Assistants in a team of 12, in a SEN school near my home town. Even then I would question whether being a man made a difference to how the boys at the school responded to me. I hoped I had been a positive role model for these boys, many of whom had complex emotional needs and troubled backgrounds. Some of them seemed to be crying out specifically for a man to advocate on their behalf at school, to be in their corner when things went wrong. I left that job knowing I had made a positive difference, however small, in the lives of children who really needed help.
While it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that social work shouldn’t be overly focused on gender roles, we should also be realistic about the fact that our children are socialised according to the norms of the day and today, maybe more than ever, there is a need for a male presence in social work which not only understands entrenched gender roles but can at the same time challenge them. The decision to leave my existing job behind and become a full-time student at this stage in my life was not an easy one to make, nor was the decision to study social work. I am pleased to say, however, that it’s a decision which has been vindicated time and again. Learning about social work is learning about the society in which we live, warts and all. It’s an eye opening, life-affirming and inspiring experience. I have enjoyed reflecting on my values and challenging preconceptions I didn’t know I had. It also highlights how important and necessary social work is in an unequal society in which there is an undeniable level of inequality and injustice.
So, if you’re a man, or know a man who is considering a career in social work, get in touch with Brunel University London (other Universities are available!) and come along for an Open Day to find out more. If you do take the step of enrolling on a course you will learn, you will laugh, you may cry but perhaps most importantly, you will find out about yourself and the society in which we all play a part. The part you play may just end up making somebody else’s life better, and who can argue with that?
At Brunel, we welcome candidates of all genders who are interested in becoming social workers. Find out more about our MSc programme in Social Work
In July 2021, Dr Yohai Hakak, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, organised a conference on gender in the caring professions. You can access the proceedings of the conference here.
Dr Mike Thomas