The Role of Female Leadership in Social Work Organizations

socialworkers2Women in the social work profession have historically been prominent in establishing the practice.

Between formal social work policy issues such as, Gender-Based Violence and the Health of Adolescent Girls, pay equity, and global women’s issues, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has continued to represent and advocate for women’s empowerment in the social work profession.

The field of social work was founded by strong female leaders such as, Jane Addams, Frances Perkins, Dorothy Height, and Jeanette Rankin. Aside from the impressive female trailblazers in women’s social work policy reform female leadership in social work organizations,  for example nonprofit organizations, has declined.

According to NASW’s publication, Social Work Speaks, “Women are still hitting the glass ceiling, which prevents advancement into higher positions within the corporate and nonprofit worlds,” (p. 333).

How can social work organizations improve the number of women in leadership positions?

NASW supports the ongoing and continuation of progressive workplace policies to address:

  • Reducing occupation segregation
  • Empowering and improving the quality of experience of women who are employed in female-majority, low-wage occupations in the domestic, home care, child care, retail, and hospitality sectors
  • Advocating for increased minimum wages for low-wage workers in female-majority professions and increasing workforce protections
  • Recruiting, cultivating, and retaining qualified female candidates for executive and other leadership positions in business and governmental initiatives

As females in social work organizations consider career advancement, they should not be held back from achieving their own success and striving for leadership positions.

Women should continue to be given the same career development resources in social work organizations. Instead of working against our most invaluable assets in social work organizations, women, employers should focus on updating their outdated workplace policies to promote female leadership in social work organizations.

This post was sponsored by the Social Work Career Center. Visit the center to learn to discover social work career opportunities or post a position if you are an employer.


  1. This is still an issue that needs more research, revised policies, and advocating for female social workers to be supervisors in our field. Men are often still being selected as the leaders in supervisory positions, even when they may not be the “best fit”. I think that we need to have more research on how often this does occur in the social work field. Policies need to be revisited to see if they need to be revised on what meets the qualifications of a supervisor in various agencies. The final part needs to be more people advocating for equal chances for both men and women to get supervisory positions. Often times, it might be listed as an equal opportunity, but this does not occur all the time. That is why we need to have all of these changes in place.

    • Barbara, I think you are on point with more needed research. I find it amazing working in a predominate female profession and the supervisory fields are held by males. I can easily see the ratio of male/female leadership roles are skewed. However, I am of a younger generation and feel that my eyes are more open to this, I am positive if you asked my female colleagues if they get paid the same as their male counterparts they would say yes, it is a set federal pay scale. I would find it interesting though to compare the females actual with the males even of the same pay grade, because of ‘step’ increases, I would not be surprised at all if it revealed that a male that has been employed for four years gets paid more than a female social worker of the same grade who has been employed for 10 and with more qualifications. It’s hard to advocate when many just cannot see this divide, they are use to seeing these males fill the leadership positions and when/if it is pointed out they point out the great females that are in leadership roles at the organization but fail to realize the inequality in ratios etc., Good in depth research may be a very good starting point. I myself am hesitant to even post about this because as soon as you mention gender bias/discrimination/unfairness etc., in the workplace, I am quickly labeled a feminist and information on ‘hire the best candidate not the gender’. I struggle with communicating to our own blind culture of gender bias, that females prefer a male leader, and this holds us back in any progression. I have witnessed many not realize they are partaking in gender discrimination, for example if home visits are needed, hiring a male over a female may be preferred for ‘safety’, and this is rationalized by many etc., but they fail to see when it comes down to it they are giving preference to a male over a female. If policy is devised, I would highly suggest awareness and education to be included beyond the simple terms of equal opportunity, harassment, etc., it needs to go a step further and include attitudes, prejudice, biases etc., and supported with research.

  2. I’m sorry if that happened to you, Kate. This is why I call for NASW to empower Social Workers through training on economics, business development and career development. I’ve lived through several job eliminations/cuts and learned very quickly how to build a business case to quantify the work I do.

    As such, the Social Work profession needs to do a better job of quantitative research to demonstrate positive outcomes of our work. If we can’t prove what we do works, then we need to develop better, more cost-effective and efficient services for our clients.

  3. Some Women Social Work Managers prevent leadership advancement for other women social workers by favoritism to subordinates they have befriended and by Stifling and not Developing their subordinates, which is done in business.

  4. This article has me a little lost. What specific “outdated workplace policies” have contributed to womens’ inabilities to advance in the Social Work profession?

    How do “policies” and “increase minimum wages” help women demonstrate and negotiate for increased success in the workplace?

    I hope that NASW will call for empowering people with the economic and business knowledge, as well as negotiating skills needed to demonstrate their worth in the workplace. This is a gap in the profession’s ability to promote itself in today’s outcome-oriented business world.

    • I agree with policies that need to be changed for female social workers and the ability for policy to desegregate the professional field. I am a new member of Twitter, tweeting from USC school of social work and trying to reply to some of the most interesting articles for my 625 Research class. Please continue discussing interesting policies so that I may learn more and gain more knowledge about the field.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.