IWD2021: Surround yourself with your own “board of directors”

8th March 2021

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.

Lisa Zaranyika is a principal practice tutor for Frontline, joining from Childline where she was a service manager. She started as a trainee social worker in duty and assessment, reaching the level of advanced practitioner, before moving into children and adolescent mental health services. She was then deputy service manager in a long-term safeguarding team, before moving to Childline.

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 most significant barriers I faced were earlier on in my social work career, and they were notably linked to pregnancy and motherhood. I became pregnant in my second year as a trainee, and when I shared this with my learning development officer, she asked whether it was feasible that I would be able to complete the programme with a child. I came away with a clear sense that she did not believe I could – and she did not want me to continue. Upon reflection, this was a pivotal point in my journey into social work – had I been dissuaded, I may not have become a social worker at all. This was not my only experience of a lack of support or compassion related to pregnancy. I remember telling my manager in supervision that I was pregnant, and her response was one of exasperation. These experiences reflect the way women can be seen as liabilities, or an inconvenience, related to their role as a mother.

The main driver for me in overcoming these barriers was my own mother. Her unfailing support and encouragement pushed me through barriers that seemed insurmountable. It was her I turned to when I was made to feel like a career in social work was unobtainable. She shared her own experiences of the barriers she had faced, and was committed to ensuring that the next generation of women (or one at least) would not be impeded.

Are there any women who have made a difference to you in your career? Feel free to give them a shout out!

As I’ve said, my mother is definitely my biggest cheerleader, career advisor and reflective supervisor. As a professional within the public sector, she role modelled hard-work, commitment and compassion, inspiring me and my sister. She instilled the belief that we too could work hard and achieve.

My first ever manager Jane Maxwell, was also a huge influence in my career. Her positive affirmations and steady encouragement to me as a trainee social worker were pivotal in the belief that I would not just survive, but thrive as a social worker.

Finally, Marsha Rainford-Hay, was the first and only black female manager I have had in my 17-year social work career. I remember the feeling, walking into the interview room, to see that my service manager was a black woman. She gave me the belief that I could achieve and progress in the social work profession. If she could do it, that meant it was possible for me, and Marsha gave me all of the support and encouragement necessary to become a service manager myself.

Around 85% of social workers are female – but over the last six years, only 50–60% of director of children’s services have been women. Why do you think that is?

Some of the experiences I have outlined are contributory factors. The social work profession is a rewarding but also incredibly challenging profession. Sometimes toxic environments can be created in which the desire to achieve a healthy work/life balance can be misconstrued as a lack of commitment, and this can obstruct career progression for some women.

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?

I recently listened to a webinar by Louise Grant and Gail Kinman on resilience and self-care in social work. They spoke about the importance of surrounding yourself with your own “board of directors” – a trusted group of peers, managers, friends and family that you can go to for support and advice. We all know that colleague or friend who will tell it to us like it is, without sugar coating, and sometimes we need that. We also know who will tell us that we are amazing, when we are feeling anything but. The move into management can feel lonely at times, but ensuring you have people around you that care about you, and that you can trust, is crucial.

Read all our blogs for International Women’s Day 2021 here.