According to ENC social work professor, Stephanie Flaherty, 22 out of the 25 social work majors at Eastern Nazarene College (ENC) are female— a trend that reflects the professional field. As per the U.S. Census Bureau, 80.5 percent of social workers are female as of 2016.
“In the early days of social work, women would take on this task of helping the less fortunate and those in need,” says Flaherty. “This was when there were more rigid gender roles in society. Men were the providers of the household. Social work was viewed as charity work, which was predominately considered ‘women’s work.'”
Most students are female, but this does not affect the classroom experience, according to social work major Rebecca Martell.
“Knowing how to connect with other people is one of the key aspects of social work,” says Martell. “If you are passionate about that, whether you are a man or a woman, then you would be a fit for social work.”
Martell also spoke about the importance of diversity in the workplace and the need for multiple perspectives despite social workers being predominantly women. Dwan Cannon shares this idea, as one of the three male social work majors.
After four and a half years in the military and two deployments, he relied on social workers to get him through PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Regarding what social workers did for him, he wants to “pass on the blessing” by becoming a social worker himself.
Throughout his introductory courses in social work, Cannon was one of few men in his classes. He was apprehensive at first because of the stigma of men in social work, but he came to appreciate classroom discussions and learning about something he loved.
Working in this field, Professor Flaherty sees how the gender of the individual social worker automatically creates a barrier when working with clients.
“Social workers must recognize and understand the power of difference in each situation and see each client as their own person,” says Flaherty, who has worked as a social worker for 19 years. “We [reinforce] the strengths [the clients] already have to help them address their challenges.”
Flaherty hopes that March, being Social Work Awareness Month, will draw more attention to the issue of diversity in the social work field.