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A comparative study of the problems and challenges of women in social work management.

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The aim of this research project was to explore the experiences of black and white women managers who are employed in private and public social work settings. The major stressors and challenges which women managers experienced in the workplace and in the home were explored. The ways in which women coped with the pressures were identified. Supports and obstacles which affected women's career paths were reflected in the study. The literature study revealed that social work is a traditionally female occupation run by women for predominantly women clients. The profession has a caring ethos and a commitment to equal treatment. Social work managers are promoted from the ranks and it is significant that they are principally white and male (Burden and Gottlieb, 1986,p.5). Studies in Canada, Britain and in America reveal the effects of gender stereotyping. Firstly that the concept of management is defined in terms of male characteristics. Secondly that in seeking promotion women are subject to discrimination. Thirdly that a different set of barriers exist when they advance into management. The literature as it exists reflects a white female perspective and there is a failure to address the discrete experiences which black women face. The literature has been built up largely in western countries and as such reflects the beliefs which prevail in the host countries. This empirical study used a feminist qualitative methodology to generate new information about women as managers in social work settings. The design is a descriptive one which seeks to understand a universe about which there is limited information. A sample of sixty women managers in the cities of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg were interviewed using a semi structured interview schedule. Women managers from different racial groups, agencies and tiers of management were represented in the sample. The empirical study demonstrated that one of the maIn pressures was the manager's own expectations. Women managers exhibited the "superwoman syndrome" in attempting to perform perfectly the multiple and conflicting roles of manager, wife, mother and friend. The findings also demonstrated that the main sources of support which included family members, community involvement and workplace colleagues, were also the main sources of pressure for the managers. Few of the managers had formal management qualifications and management training has only recently been placed on the social work agenda. Women managers were found to manage differently to men- but they were no less effective. These managers invested time in building up good collaborative relationships with staff and through these relationships the goals of the organisation were accomplished. The style which the managers described resembled closely the transformational style of management and it is one which is well suited to managing in the current turbulent environment. There were few black women in management positions and they appeared to be recruited mainly to middle management positions. They were highly visible, on the periphery, suffered performance pressure and had few supports. The researcher had made recommendations for the recruitment of more black managers to permeate all levels of management. Another recommendation was for increased training and other development programmes. The creation of mentoring, sponsorship and networks to assist managers in their career development is presented as another necessary requirement.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Durban-Westville, 1994.


Public welfare--Management., Theses--Social work.