The Role and Status of Women in Social Work Education: Past and Future Considerations

By Bent-Goodley, Tricia B.; Sarnoff, Susan Kiss | Journal of Social Work Education, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Role and Status of Women in Social Work Education: Past and Future Considerations


Bent-Goodley, Tricia B., Sarnoff, Susan Kiss, Journal of Social Work Education


WE ARE EXTREMELY GRATEFUL to the Council on Social Work Education's Council on Publications; JSWE Editor-in-Chief, Colleen M. Galambos; immediate past Editor-in-Chief Deborah P. Valentine; the JSWE's consulting editors; and the CSWE Council on the Role and Status of Women in Social Work Education (Women's Council) for the opportunity to co-edit the JSWE's special section on the role and status of women in social work education. We are also proud of the fine and diverse forms of research and scholarship it contains and we hope that you find them enlightening. Yet, we also suspect that you will find much of the content in the section surprising, daunting, and not infrequently frustrating.

In a profession where women are two thirds of social work educators (Lennon, 2005), it is important that JSWE devote a special section to the role and status of women in social work education. Similarly, and also further explored in the articles contained in this special section, it is extraordinary that, despite the fact that women are the majority of social work educators as well as social work students, practitioners, and clients, we have only recently gained a significant number of leadership positions in social work education--in all roles and at all ranks other than full professor (Di Palma, 2005). Even these small gains continue to be skewed toward smaller programs, such as those without doctoral programs or strong research foci, toward positions that require less education, such as in BSW-only programs, and off the tenure-track, such as field directors (Di Palma, 2005; Wilson, 2004). There are five major issues of concern for women social work educators as evidenced in the literature: (1) limited data collection, (2) pay and rank inequity, (3) limited mentoring opportunities, (4) the challenges presented of balancing home life and work life in the professoriate, and (5) the unique challenges of diverse groups of women in the academy.

Limited Data Collection

The data on gender in social work education are limited, as affirmed within one of the articles in the special section. The data do not capture the full extent of pay and rank differentials, impacts of course load and committee assignments, and the institutional impacts on individual-level scholarship and productivity. The data also do not assess how gender influences decisions to stay in or leave the professoriate. Without having data that capture this information, both quantitatively and qualitatively, it is difficult to fully understand and complete the picture of women in social work education.

Pay and Rank Inequity

Women in social work education, as measured by salary, rank, tenure, and promotion, continue to experience inequity in the academy (Di Palma & Topper, 2001; Gravois, 2006; Holley & Young, 2005). Despite more than 30 years of inquiry and attention, these inequities continue to persist. The workloads of women are often filled with greater teaching demands and more active committee involvement (Sansone, Bedics, & Rappe, 2000; Williams, 2005); even in the 21st century, women are still being told that their male colleagues make more money because they have a family to support. While the number of women in administrative leadership positions is increasing (Di Palma, 2005; Trolander, 1997), it is unclear whether this is the result of a greater number of women in the profession, the CSWE affirmative action directive, or the efforts of collectives, such as the CSWE Council on the Role and Status of Women in Social Work Education (Di Palma & Topper, 2001).

Women continue to be overly represented in tenure-earning positions (Park, 1996; Petchers, 1996; Toutkoushian & Bellas, 2003; Wilson, 2004). Women continue to earn less money and to hold lower ranks compared to male colleagues (Di Palma & Topper, 2001). Women are also less likely to hold the rank of full professor (Lennon, 2005). Some might argue that women are less productive (Kirk & Rosenblatt, 1984), accounting for their lower pay and lower rank. …

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