Today is International Women’s Day. At Frontline, we’re celebrating the achievements of all women in social work, and the huge impact they’ve had on improving the lives of the children and families they support. This week, we hear from five Frontline women – fellows and staff – about their journey to a senior position in social work.
Kakoli Kumar is a Frontline fellow, and a service manager in an assessment team. After arriving in the UK from India, she was drawn to social work, and its legal mandate of supporting children and families. She trained as a social worker whilst working as a social work assistant, and has worked in the same local authority for 17 years.
Do you feel you faced any particular barriers as a woman as you’ve progressed in your social work career? What helped you overcome them?
The usual barriers exist for women all round (becoming pregnant, being a mother, being from an ethnic background) but I was very motivated by the reasons that made me choose social work as a career. I was passionate about making positive changes for children and their families, and soon realised that for my passion to have a broader impact, I needed to be in a position to drive those changes myself. Initially, though, I did not enjoy my role as a supervisor. However, thanks to systemic training, the Black and Asian Leadership Initiative and then the Firstline programme, I found the skills to express myself authentically and steer my vision. So I believe training and development are the keys to overcoming these barriers.
Are there any women who have made a difference to you in your career? Feel free to give them a shout out!
My mother – she was a housewife, but her ambitious outlook for us was infectious. She wanted us to make something for ourselves, have a career and be financially independent. That way we could have a say in all aspects of decision making. Also, my current line manager – Julie Rooke. Without her support and nurturing, I would not be growing as much as I am doing now.
Around 85% of social workers are female – but over the last six years, only 50–60% of directors of children’s services have been women. Why do you think that is?
Women worry about how they can cope with motherhood and their personal life, and the demands of a senior leadership role in social work. I also believe that the physical changes that women go through in their adult life are really underrated – such as infertility, miscarriages, menopause, perceptions regarding same sex relationships, not wanting to have children. Society’s image of a woman plays a huge part on how much they think they can achieve. Alongside this comes the cultural perspectives – jobs that women should not do, and how they should be educated. I do believe family narratives play a huge part in this. Are girls encouraged to be ambitious? How do we teach young girls to deal with the ideas of disappointment, and the constant drive to be perfectionists?
On International Women’s Day, what advice would you give to a woman what wants to make it to a senior position within social work?
Every difficulty and challenge is conquerable – what is most important is self-belief. Whatever your history, background and family narrative is – you deserve everything you hope to achieve. Don’t let disappointments get in the way, look at what went wrong and how you can use this to bring about change for the next time. As someone said to me – and I tell myself this every time I think about career progression – “you’ve got this!”