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.
Susan Webb is a Frontline fellow. She qualified as a social worker in 1992 and has worked in numerous settings, including child protection and quality assurance. For ten years she was chair of the London Independent Reviewing Officer Managers Forum, before moving back to a frontline position as a head of service. She is currently a service manager and has also been a practice teacher and practice assessor for more than 20 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?
I’ve always had a clear idea of where I wanted to be, and been fortunate to be able to achieve this. I’ve never thought that my progression in my career was hindered by being a woman. I have had mentors, both men and women, who have encouraged me in my development and progression in my social work career.
Are there any women who have made a difference to you in your career? Feel free to give them a shout out!
Two women have made a difference to me in my career – Kay Weiss was my area manager and was my early role model in managing senior level meetings where there was a male dominated arena. Quiet, calm, measured – not something that comes naturally to me! The second was, and continues to be, Jacky Tiotto, now CEO of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Directors had always been a ‘distant’ strategic position to me; they might come round three times a year and wave at the workers… it is likely that’s why the role never interested me. That is not Jacky; she showed me how you could be strategic and still be in touch with practice, and make a difference. If I was ten years younger, I might have a different view of my next steps, but as it is I am looking towards a graceful move into retirement – I think 30 years is a good innings.
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?
There are many reasons we could hypothesise for this – career breaks due to family circumstances being one of them. But, if there are 50–60% of women directors now, I think that is progress in relation to other professions. When I look around me, the senior management teams are more likely to be 80% women and they are seeing their next steps as directors; there are a lot more support networks for women now in developing their careers.
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?
Learn your craft. Relationships and leadership skills are vital. Understand how to manage the politics, and be confident in developing a shared vision of good practice.