According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 80.3 percent of social workers are female. Of social workers under the age of 34, fewer than 10 percent are male. Many experts believe that the disparity has become harmful to men. Potential male clients might be less likely to avail themselves of needed social programs. Also, skilled males might miss out on career opportunities in a surging field.
Men who want to become social workers should start by applying to some of the country’s best MSW programs (click here to take a look). Although most universities choose the most qualified applicants regardless of gender, it seems logical that they would want to recruit more men.
However, too many men haven’t even considered social work because of persistent stereotypes about workers in helping professions. It’s important to bring these stereotypes out into the open, discredit them and welcome more males into social work.
Where Have All the Boys Gone?
During the 1970s, men earned about half of all psychology master’s degrees. In the 1980s, 36 percent of social workers were male, and 30 percent of American Counseling Association (ACA) members were male. The introduction of managed care in the 1990s cut into the salaries of psychotherapists, and many men began to leave the profession. Today, about 10 percent of ACA members are male. Also, only one in five advanced psychology degrees are awarded to men.
Some experts argue that caring professions like therapy and social work lost status for reasons that have nothing to do with the increasing numbers of women in these fields. Noreen Wainwright, a former National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) assessor in England, suggests that those in caring professions suffer from an unfair perception that they aren’t qualified for more higher-paying and “prestigious” jobs.
Interestingly, one of the ripest networks social worker recruiting may be individuals who have had other careers but currently want more meaningful occupations. Many older care workers, she says, enter the profession because someone that they love has needed help, and they want to help others in a similar way.
The Consequences of Losing Men in Social Work
A social worker’s performance has nothing to do with gender in the long run, but the gender of a social worker can influence a client’s initial decision to seek help.
Many people find that certain topics are best discussed with someone of the same gender, at least at first. For many males, topics like sex and aggression are much easier to discuss with another male. Other topics that men may prefer to discuss with another man include unemployment, being a stay-at-home father and male postpartum depression. Just as women often struggle with having both a career and a family, males often struggle with being both a provider and a father.
Many potential male clients would prefer to see a man’s face when they enter the social worker’s office. In fact, experts speculate that need for social assistance among men is underreported both because of the likelihood that they’ll be connected with a female social worker and also because of the lasting social stigma associated with seeking help.
When these potential male clients see a female social worker, however unfairly, they may think that she lacks an understanding of the unique male perspective. A survey in England found that 25 percent of men aged 16 to 25 said that they would never consider working in social work, caring or a similar profession. However, 23 percent said they would reconsider if the profession would improve its public perception.
Making Social Work More Hospitable for Men
In the U.S., the average salary for an MSW is around $51,192. Despite the non-financial benefits of social work, it’s a disappointing financial return on investment for a graduate degree. The good news is that demand for social workers in increasing, especially as the American population ages. Also, the occupation may prove recession-proof as growing numbers of older Americans require social worker assistance. Social workers may find themselves well-positioned to demand better pay, even within public sector agencies and organizations.
Even though more competitive pay would help, overcoming systemic gender roles is just as challenging for males drawn to helping professions as it is for women drawn to the C-suite. Ultimately, clients suffer most when the social workforce isn’t as diverse as it should be.
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