This has been an unprecedented and horrendous year. This very latest chapter in the story of care has for many turned out to be the hardest as new strains of the virus stole our chances of remobilisation.
Yet, when I think of those who work in social care, 84% of whom are women, the feminist phrase ‘nevertheless she persisted’ comes to mind. March 8th is international women’s day. This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge making it a good time to consciously recognise and raise the role that gender politics have played in the long-term under recognition of social care and the pernicious effect of paternalistic structures and systems on all those who provide, work in, and access care and support. Pandemic response has been a microcosm of that experience, leading to scrutiny, division and blame at a time when what is needed is respect, collaboration, and support.
The voice and expertise of skilled social care professionals, when listened to, offers routes to manage the pandemic in situ. We have seen this in the embedding of the most recent guidance, finally co-produced with sector experts.
In the Engender report ‘Sex and Power in Scotland 2020’ we read that only 2 out of every 50 people who head up the top Scottish Companies are women. This is quite a comparison to the 2 out of every 3 who hold CEO and Director level posts in social care. There are two ways that we must look at this. First, we must celebrate a sector which has championed and supported so many women into leadership roles. This is not purely down to statistics, but because of a sector which very often applies its expertise in person-centred and person-led care and support to workforce development. There is much that other sectors could learn from this approach.
Secondly, we must note the vast difference in the number of men in senior rather than frontline roles. Diversity is a greatness, and this highlights the need to welcome more men to frontline social care. But also, not to rest on our laurels, 2 out of 3 is impressive, but not representative of the 84% in frontline roles. There is still more to be done about that proverbial glass ceiling.
I recently heard Dame Stefanie Shirley speak and she said that ‘you can tell ambitious women by the shape of their head – it is flat by being patted patronisingly’. Now my first reaction was to laugh out loud, but this was quickly followed by a sharp intake of breath as its accuracy hit home.
So many assumptions are made by those outside of the sector about what social care is and does. We have no better spotlight than now to showcase our expertise, skills, and professionalism. I ask my fellow flat headers and those that they work with, to #choosetochallenge by sharing a story about what you do in social care. We have an opportunity to change perception, it is our responsibility to take it.
Thanks to the SSSC for providing social care workforce data.