Helping Women Achieve Equality

Dec 15, 2011

NASW News blog exclusive:

By Paul R. Pace, News Staff

Helping women achieve equality was the focus of a keynote presentation by NASW President Jeane Anastas at the NASW Wisconsin Chapter’s conference earlier this year.

Anastas explained that one of her major goals as president of the association is to highlight the issues facing women in society generally and in the social work workforce specifically.

Like the professions of teaching and nursing, social work is predominantly comprised of women. “Approximately 80 percent of current NASW members are women,” she told attendees, noting that the profession is becoming more female-dominated.

“The clients we serve are diverse, but because of the challenges facing women — including economic disparities, child and elder care responsibilities and overall gender inequalities in society — it is imperative that every social worker understand the challenges facing their female colleagues and clients in order to successfully work with and serve them,” Anastas said.

NASW’s president noted that all social workers should be concerned about women’s issues, explaining that women are more likely than men to live in poverty, have a chronic illness, experience depression and experience intimate partner violence and stalking.

“Women in the nonprofit and social work workforce have also made great strides, yet continue to face significant challenges,” she said. “It is apparent that women are the backbone of the nonprofit sector although they continue to lag behind in salary, position and a variety of professional markers.”

NASW has long been an advocate for women’s rights and issues that affect both professional social workers and the clients they serve, Anastas explained. The association has advocated for passage of the Affordable Care Act, which equalizes health care costs for women and men; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which provides protection against pay discrimination; and the pending Paycheck Fairness Act, H.R.1519/S.797, which seeks to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to more effectively address wage discrimination on the basis of sex and other factors.

Anastas said social workers can help the profession by mentoring young women and  supporting one another.

The Wisconsin conference was just one in a series of Anastas appearances at chapter events. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Hoffler, special assistant to NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark, was a special guest speaker at the 25th Management Institute and Fall Conference, sponsored by the NASW West Virginia Chapter.

Hoffler’s presentation, “Reinvesting in the Profession: A Comprehensive, Nationwide Approach,” addressed the latest facts and figures supporting congressional passage of the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act, HR 1106/S. 584. That bill is designed to address challenges to the profession and would help to ensure that millions of individuals and families throughout the nation can continue to receive the essential services that social workers provide.

Hoffler explained that the need for social workers is greater than ever due to widespread unemployment and a rise in poverty rates.

In direct correlation, the profession is facing a host of workforce challenges that need attention. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that employment of social workers will increase much faster than average for all occupations through 2016. But social work students graduating with a master’s degree from a public university can expect to accumulate $25,000 in educational debt, and salaries are not likely to keep pace.

“In addition to high educational debt, social workers have to balance comparably low salaries,” Hoffler explained.

West Virginia Chapter Executive Director Samuel Hickman said the conference is hosted annually to improve the skills of social workers who work in administration, management, supervision and evaluation, as well as to stress the important roles that social workers value in creating and managing effective, humane social and health care programs.

“Elizabeth’s presentation seemed to resonate with many participants,” Hickman said, “particularly the younger practitioners and students who were invited specifically to hear her speak.”